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Three Ways that Chain Restaurants Can Connect With Local Markets

Summary: In this article, we explore current market trends of independent vs. chain restaurants, strategies of how chain restaurants can build a more local feel, and current chains that lead by example in showing dedication to the communities they serve.

 

The Current Restaurant Industry Landscape

It’s no secret that the restaurant industry is booming. With an increasing number of dining options, varieties of cuisines to choose from, and the rise in overall food quality, restaurant patrons have the ability to customize their dining experience down to a science.

There are two main sectors within the industry that compete for business: (1) the quick service restaurants (QSRs) or chain restaurant sector and (2) the independent restaurant sector.

The QSR portion of the industry accounted for over $310 billion in sales in 2016 while independent, local restaurants accounted for approximately $210 billion. QSR chains have been successful in adapting new technologies through social media channels, building innovative online ordering platforms, and offering access through convenient locations.

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Survey results comparing independent restaurants and chain restaurants.

However, all other trends point toward independent restaurants having the upper hand. According to Pentallect, Inc., independent restaurants are not only growing overall revenue share within the industry, but also outperforming QSRs in numerous categories including community involvement, higher food and service quality, and more diverse menus. These trends suggest that independent restaurants will overtake QSR sales as soon as the next five years.

With these trends in mind, it is clear that QSRs must find more creative and meaningful ways to interact with consumers and show how much they care about the communities they serve.

Read below for three simple strategies on how QSRs can demonstrate commitment to local markets:

 

1. Incorporate Local Themes

When building a QSR location in a new community, one of the best ways to give a restaurant a sense of local pride and feel is by incorporating local themes into the design of the restaurant. Whether it’s through supporting local artists by displaying different pieces of artwork, attracting local performers and musicians to play at the restaurant, or displaying old newspaper articles on historical community events, a QSR can embody the passion of a community and illustrate their dedication to serving customers.

One of the best examples of a successful QSR chain that incorporates local themes into the design of its restaurants is Potbelly Sandwich Shop. While Potbelly is known for serving mouth-watering sandwiches with their famous hot peppers, the sandwich chain has done an excellent job of developing unique atmospheres through its decor, menu design, and dedication to employing local residents.

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The lunch hour with live music at Potbelly in Washington, D.C.

One of the main reasons Potbelly has such a lively atmosphere is because of its live music. The tradition began back in 1977 when the chain was still known more as an antique shop and has attracted all types of musicians to perform during the lunch hour. The dedication to employing local musicians has held true as the company has expanded to over 400 locations across the United States.

People typically have a strong sense of pride and dedication to their communities and QSRs struggle against local independent restaurants in providing a sense of hominess. By taking a page out of Potbelly’s book, QSRs can find creative ways to include elements of local communities when building out new locations.

 

2. Source from local vendors

Another way for QSRs to show their commitment to local communities is to source their food and ingredients from local farmers and vendors. Consumers are becoming more health-conscious and showing interest in where their food comes from - in essence, the quality of food and how it is cultivated is of utmost importance. As a result, consumers are more likely to purchase food that is locally sourced because the quality is higher and the purchase directly supports the livelihood of local farmers.

QSRs can also purchase from local vendors and build relationships with community farmers as new restaurant locations are opened. Purchasing from local farmers supports local families, builds community, and supports stronger farmer-buyer relationships. More than anything, QSRs who purchase from local farmers are making a statement by investing in the future - supporting a local farmer increases the likelihood that the farm will continue to flourish in the future.

Sweetgreen, a simple salad and grain bowl chain built on inspiring healthier communities, has been able to grow at a rapid pace in the past decade by making a commitment to sourcing food from trusted local partners and growers in the communities where they’ve built restaurants. The company has developed a supply network of farmers around the country and has vowed to work with farmers who grow their crops in safe and responsible ways. With over 70 locations in major cities throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, Sweetgreen will continue to grow its farmer network.

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A sampling of Sweetgreen salad options, composed of ingredients from local farmers.

Purchasing from local farmers and vendors can be a very effective strategy for QSRS to stimulate local economies while simultaneously supporting and investing in local communities.

 

3. Sponsor local youth sports organizations

There is no better way for a QSR restaurant in a new location to show overall dedication to the future of a local community than by sponsoring local community youth sports organizations. With the cost of youth sports rising year over year, coaches and league volunteers are always looking for additional funding sources and rely on the dedication of local, regional, and national sponsors. A sponsorship can go a long way for a youth sports organizations by reducing overall registration costs, increasing scholarship funds, updating equipment, and lowering facility costs.

Additionally, sponsoring a youth sports organization can be beneficial for a QSR from a business perspective. A sponsorship can provide an avenue for a QSR to increase general awareness of the brand, promote a new store location, and increase the number of customers coming into the restaurant on a daily basis. Growing the restaurant’s business and helping more kids play sports? Sounds like a win-win.

Numerous QSRs have been heavily invested in growing and supporting youth sports over the years. Little Caesars Pizza has been particularly dedicated to growing the game of ice hockey, sponsoring youth and amatuer hockey since 1968. Ten years later, the company worked to establish the Little Caesars Amateur Hockey League. To this day, the league helps over 11,000 kids have the chance to play hockey at the most competitive level and has grown into a hockey powerhouse. Little Caesars is committed to helping kids develop character on and off the ice - as a result, the company has flourished as a business and as a stalwart supporter of community youth sports.

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Little Caesars has helped hundreds of thousands of kids play ice hockey.

Sponsoring community youth sports organizations can be a great way for QSRs to make a positive impact in the communities they serve.

Taking Action

By incorporating a combination of some or all of the above ideas, chain restaurants will not only generate brand awareness and drive more customers to their different stores locations, but also demonstrate a steadfast commitment to making the lives of the people in the communities they serve better. There are numerous opportunities available for QSRs to get involved - it will be interesting to see if the trends mentioned above hold true in the coming years.


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