Driving Restaurant Results with the Family Experience

TaniaHaighHeadshot_1.jpgA growing franchise restaurant concept is unique, has a cool appeal, and legs to expand across the country. However, these attributes don’t always guarantee what restaurants want most – repeat visits. Our company, Magnolia Insights, conducted a comprehensive study on franchise marketing efficacy and we have found that the most successful concepts spend precious marketing dollars to position themselves to win with families. When a restaurant leverages its assets to appeal to the Family, it sets itself up for repeat business and long-term success.

There is no one silver bullet to win business with families. Restaurants need to have a stellar combination of menu offerings & service that appeal to the entire family. The best restaurants are strategic with their approach because it’s often hard to please people at different life stages with differing tastes in food.

It’s important to note that this does not mean that a restaurant should try to be “all things to everyone”. The best restaurant brands have attributes that are integrated with family insights that drive repeat visits. Here are some blocking-and-tackling basics to win with the entire family:

Make Mom (Woman) Happy. 

This is not a sexist cliché. The business data and consumer insights are clear and reinforce the fact that mom (or woman in the scenario – read: aunt, grandma, sister) is the primary food decision-maker and if she sees something appealing on the menu at the restaurant, then chances are she will bring along her brood. In addition to the food, this influential consumer values cleanliness and customer service. A restaurant can win with women by keeping tables clean, bathrooms clean and training staff to be attentive to family needs such as potty emergencies for young children. Everyone has head the old saying, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy…” The best restaurant concepts understand this implicitl

Menu Variety Makes Everyone Happy.

As outlined above, a restaurant wins with mom when she identifies something on the menu that she likes. Now it’s time for her to find something that can keep her toddlers happy (simple menu items without too much of a fuss) and the older kids who may want larger menu items. We have found that the most successful restaurants offer shareable menu items that can be split amongst a group, like Carl Jr.’s festive Jalapeño Poppers or McDonald’s unstoppable Chicken McNuggets. The best restaurants can appeal to kids, parents and grandparents. Everyone wants to reach across the table to grab a McNugget!

A Meal Bundle Makes it Easy,

Meal bundles make it easy for restaurants to increase sales and provide value to customers by offering discounts over a la carte purchases. Almost all successful restaurant concepts provide multiple bundling options. Even Starbucks has dabbled with meal bundling to compete with fast casual “combo meals” during the highly coveted lunch rush hour. In 2016 they launched a limited-time Power Lunch Bundle. It remains to be seen if they will decide to continue meal bundling on a permanent basis going forward.

A Kids Call Out.

Incorporating tactics that make a restaurant kid-inclusive drives repeat business. Something as simple as coloring sheets & crayons let customers know that children are welcome and a dedicated kids menu helps to keep the children engaged. Russells BBQ, a local restaurant in Elmwood Park, IL offers tokens to every child that walks in the front door. The kids put the token into a large gumball-like machine and out pops an inexpensive prize like a sticky-hand or wax figurine or a temporary tattoo. Kids love it! An example of kid-inclusive menu integration on the national level is at Denny’s. Their kid’s menu variety is a dream—ranging from classic meals like spaghetti to a section for building your own sundae. The most successful restaurant concepts find value in being kid-inclusive.

Keep up the Fun!

Depending on the restaurant concept, a dedicated family night or a themed night may boost revenue and drive repeat business. In an age of social media, restaurants often find that they are more likely to receive free publicity when running specials that involve price discounts. Many restaurants offer “Kids Eat Free” specials on Mondays or Tuesdays, which are typically the slowest nights of the week in the restaurant industry. The restaurant chain O’Charley’s has taken a bold approach and recently announced that kids eat free “all day every day” with the purchase of a dine-in adult entrée. It remains to be seen whether they will keep this policy in place permanently, but it certainly shows that they are targeting families with this bold approach.

The most successful restaurant concepts leverage their money and resources to appeal to moms and families and turn them into repeat customers. By offering the right food variety and kid-inclusive touches, restaurants can appeal to the entire family.    

Tania Haigh is CEO of Magnolia Insights, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications company that supports franchise brands and organizations. Prior to launching Magnolia Insights, Tania spent a decade at McDonald’s USA and was recognized for her thought leadership by the Association of National Advertisers and Brand Innovators. Tania has been featured in Advertising Age, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Chief Marketer Magazine and the Wall Street Journal; and has written articles for Chicago Woman magazine and Chief Marketer.  She is also a TEDxWomen organizer and curator. 

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