Abt believes customer trends are pointing to further momentum, too. Breakfast remains one of the fastest growing dayparts in foodservice. In 2017, Dataessential showed that 93 percent of more than 300 operators surveyed reported an increase in breakfast sales. The year before, the National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Industry Forecast noted that 72 percent of adults wanted restaurants to serve all-day breakfast.
At Huddle house, roughly 70 percent of its sales come from breakfast items offered at all times of the day. Abt says breakfast incidents are forecasted to increase by 4 percent over the year few years.
Another sign of optimism: Huddle House’s latest fleet of restaurants are posting sales 35 percent higher than the system average. And the brand’s market penetration remains steady. Huddle House serves smaller, often waved-over markets that embrace the concept as a multi-occasion operation. The average populations in the towns Huddle House opens are 6,000.
This reality has guided Huddle House’s changing marketing direction. About two and half years ago, the brand had zero percent of its ad fund supporting digital. It also featured occasional billboards in franchised markets, but no overarching directive.
Now, digital is about 10 percent and billboards account for 15 percent of Huddle House’s media mix. Abt says digital promotions are growing transactions 2 percent versus the non-digital promoted restaurants. The company brought on agency Plein Air last year to fuel the growth.
The development of an aggressive outdoor program has led to between 100–120 billboards in Huddle House’s markets. “We’re local,” Abt says. “A couple of billboards go a long way.”
The challenge, Abt says, is how to grow the marketing business and digital investment without sapping money from other segments. Print remains a key local driver. Huddle House will layer billboard on print, digital on billboard, and so on, but is currently not looking to increase its ad fund to franchisees.
“So this is sort of the necessary evil of marketing in most businesses,” Abt says. “You have to find ways to spend more money on marketing so you don’t lose ground on those initiatives that were working in the past.”
What Huddle House did was adopt a systemwide billboard program a couple of years back where the chain pays for most of the billboards, and if the franchise partner is willing to pay for half of the cost, Huddle House will extend it, and place the board for an entire year. So instead of operators getting six months on Huddle House’s dime, they can offer up another half and the company will find ways to split the cost to get them covered for an entire year.
Operators are eager to link up given the results. Abt says billboards are extremely effective at promoting new offerings in rural markets. One example was the January launch of Two-Hand Sandwiches, like the Prime Rib Tips Sandwich, which Huddle House introduced on the front of billboards. The same was true with its May 2017 Sweet Cakes. The “Pancakes Perfected” are thick and fluffy platter-sized pancakes in flavors such as Oreo Cookie Crunch and Caramel Apple Cobbler.