Community Campaign Ideas for QSR & Casual Dining Marketers

 In Blog, Brands

Most quick service or casual dining restaurants share the same challenge: driving new and repeat customers. Popular services like Groupon do generate results, but only after a healthy discount has eaten into your margin. Then you face the nearly impossible battle of getting the “deal hunter” to come back while their main focus is finding that next unbelievable discount.

So maybe it’s time for a different approach to marketing? A community-focused approach is a strategy that will provide more sustainable results by linking your location to something that local customers care about. In our previous blog post we covered why this approach works, highlighted by a key statistic – that 89% of Americans are likely to switch brands to one associated with a cause, given comparable price and quality (2013 Cone Communications Social Impact Study). It’s one of the many convincing reasons why local marketing campaigns with a purpose tend to perform better.

In this blog post, we’ll cover the who and how – the reasons why the high school community is an ideal audience and the different ways to execute a campaign in this space.

The high school community aligns well with QSR and casual dining restaurants as it includes several different key demographics – teens, families and moms – one of which is likely a key target of yours. As it turns out, adult high school sports attendees (ages 18+) trend slightly higher than average in this category according to Scarborough Research:

  • In the past 30 days, 94% have been to a QSR and 88% have been to a sit-down restaurant (7% / 11% respectively more likely than the typical adult 18+)
  • Adult high school sports attendees have been to a QSR six times on average and a sit-down restaurant four times on average in the past 30 days (Market average is five QSR visits and three sit-down restaurant visits)
  • 27% have been to a QSR 10+ times in the past 30 days (35% more likely than the typical adult 18+)
High school students (teens) are also a great target for this category:

Reaching this audience is certainly exciting, but how you do it is a bit of an art. Remember, we’re aiming to leverage the community connection. Here are four proven ways to get the most mileage out of a high school sponsorship:

#1. Integrate a Fundraising Element

Most high school programs and athletic departments share one thing in common – they are underfunded. A local restaurant can help address this problem while driving traffic by creating a give-back program. Successful give-back programs can be structured many different ways. A single give-back event (For example: 20% of all sales on Tuesday, December 2nd from 4-8pm) tends to create excitement and buzz as students and parents will act as ambassadors and spread the word to encourage a good turnout. Another way of setting up a give-back program is to offer it as an ongoing opportunity over a set period of time (For example: Mention you are with Central High School from September through December and 20% of your food order will be donated back to your school).

Whichever method you choose, it is important to make sure you are getting this message out in as many ways as possible. George Green, the VP Bread & Company recently covered this topic in QSR magazine and wrote that “Just like everything else in our business, execution is key. Plan this event out well ahead of time, so that parents and schools have time to promote it and you get it in traditional communication tools like newsletters. Encourage parents to promote the event on their personal and school Facebook and Twitter accounts so that you get the benefit of possible viral promotion.” If your sponsorship includes signage, print, PA announcements or social media mentions – it is critical that your messaging is used to promote your store’s financial support back to the school. This is what will make your restaurant stand out from all of the rest of the advertising noise.

#2. On-site Sampling

Perhaps you are opening up a new restaurant location in the community and you want to get the word out. High school athletic events are a great place to set up an on-site booth and provide samples to the crowd. To maximize this opportunity, have your store manager on site to shake hands and introduce him/herself to help humanize the brand. Hellmann’s, which is obviously a food brand and not a restaurant, executed a high school sampling campaign that is worth mentioning. They took the unique approach of recruiting “mom ambassadors” from each high school community to help serve samples of their new product Hellmann’s Real Whipped. Not only did this help get the word out about the product, but it strengthened the community tie-in.

ALWAYS reiterate how your campaign is financially benefiting the school. Your sponsorship may only translate into $500 going back to the school, but every contribution helps and members of that high school community will recognize and remember that support. David Miller, the former COO at Checkers Drive-In Restaurants, and now the owner/operator of 28 stores emphasizes this in his article in QSR magazine: “The way you activate the relationship between you and the sports organization decides whether it will work. The thing to shoot for is your brand’s association with the team. It should seem as if the two of you are partners.”

One thing to be sensitive to is that your sampling does not compete with the concession stand at the event. High school athletic departments rely on their concession sales to help fund their programs.

#3. Link Offer to Team Success

If you’ve been to a professional sporting event, you have likely seen an example of this. Taco Bell is famous for offering NBA fans a free chalupa if the home team scores 100 points or more. The fans who attended the game just need to bring their ticket stub in within 24 hours to redeem the offer. It has been executed creatively in high school sports too – just this past football season, a local Dairy Queen in Mentor, Ohio provided a 10% discount on blizzards for every touchdown scored by a certain player during the previous game. That player’s last name: Blizzard of course.

Linking your offer to team success gives you a great platform to show your support all season long. Do you have a Twitter and Facebook account? This type of promotion gives you the opportunity to breathe some life into it by posting encouraging messages rooting the team on while reminding fans about the perk your business is offering. Your job is to be the biggest cheerleader for your community’s high school team.

#4. Create a School Contest

If you are in charge of marketing for multiple stores or an entire region, you may want to consider a multi-school campaign that introduces the element of competition. High school rivalries remain as one of today’s biggest passion points. What if you could take the passion of a high school rivalry and replicate it on social media by offering a grand prize to a school that uses a school-specific hashtag the most? The key is to NOT make the campaign/hashtag center around your brand. If you do, it may be perceived as forced and not authentic. Instead, have it focus on the school spirit. One way to do this is to encourage fans to submit their best school spirit photos which provides a great opportunity for your restaurant to engage on social media. Promote a microsite showing which school is in the lead and tastefully weave in your brand message. Depending on the social media platform you use, you may even be able to generate auto-replies to each fan’s post thanking them for their entry with an in-store offer or complimentary item.

If social media isn’t a priority for your business, you can even host this type of contest offline. Dunkin’ Donuts hosted the Dunkin’ School Duel which awarded the top high school $5,000 for casting the most voting ballots at their local Dunkin’ location.

Prizing is another natural way to integrate your restaurant’s brand. A cash grand prize to the school is always a sure bet, but it could also include your restaurant holding a pep rally or catering a free lunch for the winning school.


About the Author:

Jeff Lillibridge has helped lead Home Team Marketing’s digital and marketing strategies since April of 2013. He also leads the charge on integrating digital, mobile and social media into client campaigns at high schools across the country.