By Kerri Adams, Editor-at-Large
In today’s digital age everything moves at such a rapid pace that it’s easy to fall behind. On top of that, the restaurant industry has always been especially competitive. New innovative concepts are popping up every day. This keeps the established chains on their toes.
Popular restaurant chains all have the same challenges. They have to adapt to stay relevant to the restless consumer, while also competing with the other established chains and the new emerging brands. All are trying to catch the attention of diners in the fast moving digital space.
With that in mind, the top brands are always fluctuating. Foodable Labs publishes a variety of top brands reports throughout the year. This is our mid-year review based on our five metrics over the first five months of the year.
The National Top 25 Restaurants list is determined by an Overall Score, which is based on a 500 point scoring system that was developed in 2009 and is the longest running consumer science platform for predictive analytics in foodservice today.
The Social Insight score is comprised of five tracking categories of the Foodable Labs’ Restaurant Social Media Index: Sentiment, Influence, Engagement, Social Restaurant Visits, and Mobile Engagement.
While our monthly city-level Top 25 Restaurant rankings highlight the local stars of each regional market, Foodable's National Top 25 Restaurants features the chains that are outperforming the competition in the industry on a national level.
So without further ado, let’s take a closer look at the top three brands and how they are fostering positive social interactions.
With almost 25,000 stores, Starbucks is the most popular premium coffee chain in the world. The brand has nurtured a loyal following with its high-quality beverages, grab-and-go food program, popular mobile app, social media campaigns, and with a team of exceptional baristas.
The brand certainly knows how to introduce irresistible beverages that millennials can’t help but to share on social. Starbucks keeps their customers engaged by releasing limited-time beverages that are #Instagood, meaning they are perfect for social posts.
In the first half of the year, the coffee mogul served both the Molten Chocolate Trio and the infamous Unicorn Frappuccino for a limited time. Both inspired organic social posts from Starbucks’ beloved customers. The rainbow frozen blended drink, in particular, went viral through-out the month of April.
The brand also introduced two new takes on its popular Macchiato beverage with the Iced Cinnamon Almond milk Macchiato and the Coconut milk Mocha Macchiato. These beverages were welcomed to the menu with a Bogo offer. From March 2-6, between 2pm and 5pm, guests could buy any size macchiato drink (hot or iced) and get another one for free at participating locations.
It’s safe to say, that Starbucks understands its loyal following and this keeps the brand at the top of the Foodable Labs Index.
Arguably the fast casual better-burger chain with the most loyal cult following, Shake Shack lands at No. 2. The brand, that started as a food cart in New York City, now has 129 stores.
Analyst Note: Part of this brand's social juice is its overall awareness for such a small brand and the brands ability to activate influencers to spread the word, engage and influence others to try Shake Shack. This works especially well in top markets like NYC , LA, Chicago and Miami– which are influential capitals in social media.
Shake Shack had a monster IPO event in early 2015, where its shares more than doubled within the first month of the stock being on the market.
Since then, financial experts have criticized the brand’s growth rate for being sluggish in relation to other brands. Although Shake Shack only opened 100 stores in its first 12 years, the burger chain has consistently stated that it will not be expanding for the sake of expanding.
Instead, Shake Shack continues to focus on “acting small,” by providing high quality service and product. Evidently, this continues to resonate with its customers.
In the beginning of this year, the fast casual jumped on the mobile ordering bandwagon and launched its mobile app. To promote it, the brand gave away a high-value, limited time offer of a free burger to anyone who downloaded the app from January 23rd to February 28th.
Clearly, this gave Shake Shack fans something to cheer about on social keeping them engaged.
Another brand known for its mobile app, rounds out the top three brands on this mid-year top 25 list. Panera Bread was ahead of the game with its app, but decided in 2016 to enhance it after experiencing some challenges.
Analyst note: Though Panera Bread is a top 25 star, we are monitoring a small drop in several areas of performance. This has been on a downward trend for the past three months. While this may not be an alarming issue at current, it is interesting to note that Panera has not had a three month decline over the past five years since we have analyzed the brand within the Foodable Labs data model.
Panera 2.0 was deemed a success. “The Wall Street Journal” reported last week that the fast casual was able to cut its wait time from eight minutes to just one due to the brand’s enhance mobile ordering platform. 25% of the store’s sales are made online.
The brand makes a tremendous effort to reward their customers. Its MyPanera loyalty app not only allows users to order ahead, but those using the system can earn rewards. These rewards are often given to the member based on past purchases.
But the brand validates their customers in other ways by using social. Most of the brand’s social posts are crowdsourced, meaning they will “regram” or “re-post” content collected from their guests. Not only does this make the guest feel extra special, it also encourages other guests to follow-suit. This creates a healthy cycle of organic posts.
Wonder what other brands made the list?