How Restaurants Can Innovate At Scale

by Bonnie Rohan

As QSRs and other eateries strive to differentiate themselves through innovative menu items, the struggle to innovate through technology remains a challenge.

Increasingly younger and more tech-savvy clientele expect easy and rewarding loyalty programs like Starbucks’, and on-demand delivery options like Uber Eats. The challenge for restaurant owners and operators is that adopting these new technologies is a major investment, and they’re not always ready to depart from what they know works (and works for their budget).

Related: Mobile Ordering and Loyalty in One Package with T3’s Restaurant Accelerator

Through our work with QSR clients, we’ve learned how to deliver more scalable innovation, bridging the gap between current operations and future investments.

  1. Embrace Social Media.

Social media is such a given in the marketing landscape that it can be easy to overlook its impact. The real-time nature of social brings an extra layer of relevancy for a brand looking to keep up with trends and stay connected to its audience. Plus, it’s efficient from both a budget and timing perspective, and it gives you control over at least one form of technology, even if the rest of your digital presence needs an upgrade.

This is exactly what we’re doing with one of our large QSR clients now. The company’s website and mobile app need an overhaul, but we aren’t waiting to do digital marketing until those properties are polished. Instead, we’ve been pushing out exciting and fun content on their social channels to the brand’s sizable audience. In short, if you can’t build a loyalty app, consider driving loyalty within your social community, with promotions and 1:1 conversations.  

  1. Go Local, Go Regional.

QSRs with national or even global reach can sometimes overlook local or regional marketing programs. But reaching smaller, more targeted audiences in individual markets can be very effective, especially for franchisees. Local and regional digital marketing strategies can be hit or miss since the targets aren’t as big as they are with national campaigns, but who says you always have to go digital? Let’s not forget that radio, outdoor, or transit advertising can still have a big impact, especially in local markets.

  1. Offer “Off-Premise” Dining Options.

Almost all the QSR brands we’re talking to are eager to understand how to break into “off-premise” dining such as delivery, catering, and takeout. That’s because fast casual restaurants are being challenged from new competitors like grocery store chains and other grab-and-go concepts. Restaurants who have a significant mall presence are especially feeling the pinch as people are going to malls less.

One option is for those brands to move to new locations, and even if that option is right for some restaurant chains, it’s an enormously disruptive and expensive prospect. Meanwhile, almost all QSRs are planning for more efficient take-out operations or delivery services. Either way, there’s no reason to wait for those worthwhile innovations to become a reality. We coach our clients to consider partnering with existing delivery services like Postmates, Favor, or Uber Eats. It may not be a viable long-term solution to off-premise dining, but it can be an easy way to start spinning up those kinds of operations while you build out your own infrastructure.

  1. Test and Learn.

In-market testing is a T3 mainstay. By building a minimum viable product for a limited release, we’re able to learn in real time what needs tweaking. It actually allows our clients to get to market faster with fewer tech glitches.

For QSRs, this approach can have multiple benefits. For one, it can help to prove out new initiatives, such as the off-premise ideas in the last section, without having to rob Peter to pay Paul. At the very least, it will provide hard data that can be used to sell a new idea to franchise owners who don’t like to spend money without some concrete evidence that they’ll have a significant return on their investment.

As technology changes, restaurant owners and operators are in a tough spot. They know they need to take action to keep up and stay relevant, but dropping a new program in the middle of their operations isn’t always the best idea. We understand the limitations, and that’s why we consider workarounds and alt solves for implementing technology.

Bonnie Rohan

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