Fast Casual Restaurant Brands: Think Like Your Customer for Social Media Impact

In their quest to forge an emotional and profitable connection with their customers, all fast casual restaurant brands wrestle with common problems. What we’ve learned from our work with brands such as Tim Horton’s, Dairy Queen and Second Cup is that the biggest challenges fall within three areas: Attraction, Transaction and Retention. These areas look at how to attract customers, how to satisfy them during their transaction and then how to turn these happy customers into long-term loyalists and advocates.


You’ve invested in physical flyers, inserts, newspaper ads, e-mail blasts, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat and Vine, but have you measured which social media platform is actually connecting with your target consumer and growing your business?

Whether the communication occurs in the physical or digital worlds, the mandate is to be seen, to have a clear and compelling proposition that resonates with your customer and most importantly, to keep your message consistent and high quality.

Know your customer: It is impossible to create effective marketing without knowing your target intimately. Identify the customer that you can satisfy better than your competitors. Beyond menu and meal offerings, your social media content must connect to the age, sex, ethnicity and location of that consumer. Cut through the competitive clutter with simplicity and the promise of a great experience.

Promote the flavor promise: Adapt your social media content for regional or seasonal trends. Keep your message fresh and invest in high quality photography and reproduction (across all media) to make the promise “too good to be true.” Then deliver on it.

Promote attitude appeal: Ensure that you use social media platforms that are right for your key customer. Facebook and Pinterest audiences are looking for inspiring photos and meal ideas while those of Snapchat and Vine may have a more irreverent approach to brand engagement. Ensure that you are using the appropriate channel and tone and manner for each customer to connect them emotionally to your brand at every day part.

Monitor your ROI: Constantly measure the success of each and every customer communication (in and out of store). What social media platforms elicit the most engagement by your specific customer and when? More importantly, what content is most significantly influencing your highest sales and profit?


“Take their money!” The biggest customer pain points are centered on perceptions of poor service at the selection, payment and exit points of their experience. Use branded content and simplicity of message from consideration to completion. More than any promotional strategy, success in the fast casual sector relies on removing barriers to purchase and enjoyment.

Consider time of day communications: Measuring when you send communications and resulting conversions can help you to understand when you are stimulating or when you are annoying your audience. Messages sent at lunchtime, after-school or for the drive home should target different customers with appropriate brand messages and unique menu suggestions at appropriate times.

Utilize proximity: Find ways to alert customers when they are near your brand at the appropriate time of day. Feature products and promotions that are ready now!

Make meals easy to order: Simplify your mobile menu. Use loyalty apps to recognize individual customers and their favorite foods and offer available and meaningful upgrades (sides). Knowing each customer’s preference will increase perceived speed in the selection process and remove consideration fatigue.

Make it easy to pay: Pre-loaded payment options and “Buy Now” buttons help make it easy for your customers to enjoy your offer seamlessly.


Build an experience that makes consideration of other brands a non-starter. Create a virtuous circle by rewarding repeat visits with incentives for even more. This is best done by understanding and connecting emotionally with your ever-changing customer. The stronger the emotional bond, the longer the engagement and the stronger their loyalty to your brand.

Reward loyalty: Ensure that membership has real privileges and that it addresses the emotional needs of your customers. Beyond regular rewards, consider surprises for your most loyal customers. Random rewards to loyalists such as free lunch for them and three friends or a donation to a local school lunch program or community charity of their choice are ways to turn brand loyalists into brand ambassadors.

Reward promotion: Offer “Like” sweepstakes to your customers or reward customers for recognizing good service, which allows them to feel good and win a customer appreciation award for themselves.

Having a well-developed strategy based on a clearly defined customer will govern how you connect with that customer. Clarity of target enables choice of appropriate message and delivery channel(s). Effective measurement will allow you to adapt to maximize impact and grow trial and loyalty at every day part. Rewarding loyalty will result in improved emotional engagement, growth of sales and brand loyalty.

How is your foodservice business using social media to connect with customers? What could you be doing better? Let us know in the comments below and subscribe to receive the latest Shikatani Lacroix insights in your inbox.