It wasn’t long ago that just being a great place to eat burgers and wings was enough, but that’s not the case anymore.

Since 2017, Bruce Lane has served as VP of operations and franchise services for Quaker Steak & Lube. Serving more than 30 million wings annually, with bottled sauces for retail sale, and winning the title of “Best Wings USA,” I wanted to know more about the successful marketing behind the Quaker Steak & Lube restaurant chain, which has 40-plus locations across the U.S. Lane has been a fundamental part of modernizing the 45-year-old brand and growing it into a nationally recognized concept through franchising efforts. He has over 25 years of experience developing operationally sound and profitable restaurants and implementing growth and marketing strategies for several national foodservice and retail brands. Below is our conversation with his insights on customer frequency, social media, and the power of world-class service.

What has changed the most to drive frequency over the last five years?

Social media and here’s why. More than ever before, customers have a wide variety of options and choices. They spend hours, even days, deciding where to go. And, their decisions aren’t merely about what they want to eat—it’s as much about the whole dining experience. Our front door is no longer a part of the building—it’s now actually on customer phones or computers. Realizing this, we now market to their mobile devices because the competition starts there. To acquire customers, we have moved further outside of the box (or building) and connect directly where they’re at … on their phones.

Tell us more about the impact of social media marketing for the Quaker Steak & Lube brand.

It wasn’t long ago that just being a great place to eat burgers and wings was enough, but that’s not the case anymore. Today, we are focused on social media channels and staying on top of their constant evolution—the whole arena has grown by leaps and bounds. When diners want to learn more about a brand, they will find out from other guests, which is why reviews are so important. Since a bad review can have a lasting impact, we at Quaker Steak treat all guests like family members and when that is part of their positive review, it makes a big difference in helping to keep us top-of-mind for them and other potential guests. That is because world-class service is what truly differentiates us from other restaurants.

What are some of your most effective marketing programs? What role do coupons play?

We have several types of programs including the first-time guest program. When a guest is with us for the first time, we do everything we can to go above and beyond, including giving them coupons and discounts to use on subsequent visits. We know some people just stumble upon us, but once we get a new guest we want to put every effort forth to make them a repeat customer. After two or three visits where they experience our world-class service and foods, we know they will remember us and return. Couponing plays a small role, but we are careful not to over-coupon, and luckily we don’t have to because our menu prices are lower than competitors on a grander scale. Our strategy for coupons is to drive trial vs. frequency. Our direct mail coupon offers for potential new guests moving into our restaurant markets are an example of this.

How important has social media been to your brand?

Very important and powerful for our brand awareness. We know that people are tied to their phones and tablets so we focus largely on digital messaging channels. Social platforms have slightly different algorithms but regardless, we want our performance and guest reviews to be what “move us up” vs. pay for the placement. Organic growth through tweets, retweets, shares and likes is critical. We also build relationships with social media influencers, who come into the restaurant, believe in our brand and share their great dining experience with their followers.

If you were a new marketing person, what would be your top tip:

Start immediately. As soon as you secure a new franchised restaurant site—even at the permit stage—start marketing. Don’t wait until opening day. Savvy marketers are building excitement months and months in advance by streaming construction live feeds, teasing tasty menu item images, holding hiring events and more to generate buzz and excitement. Also, it’s important to begin community relations at the same time the building is going up. Introduce yourself to local businesses, schools, and civic organizations to begin relationship building and understanding where the needs are in the community. Let them know you are in the community to give back for a long time to come.

What is a new promotion that has been really successful?

We have a sauce of the month program, which gives us a chance to keep the brand exciting for new and regular guests while making sure they can still enjoy what they love. There is a limited amount and at times the sauce sells out before the month is up. Once it’s gone, it’s gone! Guests don’t want to miss out trying new flavors so we can build frequency. We also run innovative gift card program promotions two times a year for the holidays and during spring. Many restaurants offer bonus incentives with gift card purchases, but we add some excitement. With each $50 in gift card purchases, we give a mystery bonus scratch-off card good for at least $10. But guests can scratch to win $15, $20 or more—from menu items to $500. Our customers have had a very positive reaction to this program.

Reader Question:

Our loyalty memberships have tapered off. What can we do to get customers interested? Use or frequency is going to be based off the guest’s perceived value. No loyalty program will fix below average food or service but it can enhance a great experience thru in house dining recognition. The best loyalty is being there when someone needs you and making your guests feel special when they don’t expect it. You are really seeking loyalty to the brand versus loyalty to a loyalty program. I would conduct surveys, focus groups and review data to see what loyalty benefits are being utilized most often and gain insights into potential new offerings.

Do you have a restaurant marketing question? Email and follow him on Twitter @Vitals_com

Editor’s note: This is the latest monthly column with Rom Krupp, the founder and CEO of Marketing Vitals, an analytics software helping restaurants of all shapes and sizes. You can read his column on Twin Peaks here, Abuelo’s here, Kenny’s Restaurant Group here, Firenza Pizza here, Sonny’s BBQ here, Boston’s here, Del Frisco’s Grill here, City Barbecue here, Four Foods Group here, Melt Shop here, Sizzler here, Saxbys here, Stoner’s Pizza Joint here, CKE Restaurants here, Chicken Salad Chick here, and Hopdoddy Burger Bar here.

Casual Dining, Chain Restaurants, Expert Takes, Feature, Marketing & Promotions, Quaker Steak & Lube