A Blueprint for Restaurant Success in the Digital Age

BY: Rick Schreuder | EVP, Restaurants Practice Area Leader

PUBLISHED: 4/3/2024

Restaurants are facing pressures to adapt to the current dynamic digital landscape. From the influence of social media platforms like TikTok, to the utilization of advanced technology and data analytics, restaurants must embrace innovative marketing strategies to consistently engage consumers and drive growth amidst the challenges of expansion. 


The Social Media Imperative


Across industries, it is evident how social media has changed the way consumers interact with businesses. The advancement of platforms like TikTok has reshaped the digital landscape, with 170 million daily active users driving trends and influencing consumer decisions. The importance for restaurant brands to embrace TikTok, where 38% of users directly impact dining choices after engaging with content, was heavily emphasized at the 2024 Restaurant Franchising & Innovation Summit. Industry leaders, such as Brad Haley, CMO at Dave's Hot Chicken, discussed pivotal strategies for brands to adopt on these rising platforms.


Strategies include collaborating with content creators to authentically showcase new products on TikTok. Seeking creators with significant followings and consistent and locally relevant content can help brands remain visible among competitors and the overall digital noise. Social media's potential is undoubtedly massive, making it all the reason for why consumer brands should continue investing heavily in leveraging its power to drive growth and achieve other strategic marketing goals.


Challenges in Restaurant Expansion 


At the Restaurant Franchising & Innovation Summit, Nate Fowler, President of Long John Silver’s, gave an insightful overview of the 55-year-old brand. With the goal of 'Bringing Seafood to the Masses', LJS is currently in a redevelopment phase, looking to upgrade most of its 540+ locations while trying to find new franchisees to build new restaurants, both domestically and internationally. However, challenges such as escalating construction and labor costs, navigating leasing versus land acquisition, and identifying franchisees with relevant restaurant experience remain significant hurdles for quick service restaurants (QSR) and casual dining restaurants (CDR) face as they look to expand their footprints in 2024.


Harnessing Data for Success


Data analytics presents restaurants with a powerful avenue for driving innovation and streamlining operations. By harnessing data insights, restaurant leaders can not only enhance sustainability efforts and optimize catering services, but also anticipate industry shifts. In the session Transforming your Data into a Superpower, Jill Marchick, VP of Consumer Insights & Business Analytics at Applebee's Neighborhood Grill + Bar shared that using data as a superpower means telling a story through data and making it actionable for their franchisees. The very successful DollaRita Program, that Applebee’s ran last Fall, was developed by listening to their customers and learning key insights about what type of programs and offers they were looking for.


As restaurant leaders strive to navigate these data-driven innovations, it's evident that meeting customers where they are and working towards bettering their experience remains the north star for consumer trust and retention. Creating customized loyalty programs and listening to customers' pain points will result in stronger relationships and brand loyalty. Jessica Leyva, Director of Marketing at Another Broken Egg Cafe, discusses the importance of staying innovative, reflected in their strategic decision to cater to the demand for breakfast delivery services, showcasing the brand's commitment to innovation and customer satisfaction.


The Wrap


At the 2024 Restaurant Franchising & Innovation Summit, speakers discussed the importance of embracing digital strategies such as social media marketing, restaurant expansions, and data analytics in today's digital market. The application of these tools emphasize how important it is for brands to stay relevant, engage customers, drive sustainable growth, and adapt to evolving consumer behaviors.

At MERGE, we accelerate growth for restaurant brands by driving traffic and transactions through integrated marketing ecosystems. Connect with MERGE's team of expert marketing professionals to help take your organization to the next level.