Breakfast may be the most important meal of the day, and it’s quickly becoming a profitable daypart for quick-service restaurants.
The Breakfast Wars
Taco Bell rolled out a breakfast menu in March 2014, and the chain, owned by Yum! Brands, says breakfast represents 6 percent of total sales. Recently, they added a $1 breakfast menu they hope will entice customers to also purchase a higher-margin beverage.
To follow up on the launch, Taco Bell proved it had huevos when it took aim at McDonald’s with a campaign pointed squarely at its breakfast icon, the Egg McMuffin. This is a great example of the challenger brand approach of taking aim at an established brand while firmly maintaining the integrity and personality of their own brand.
Taco Bell put its own unique spin on breakfast with breakfast tacos and burritos, plus the “Quesalupa,” proving once again they can create Spanglish words that are just as flavorful as their menu items. The end result is a breakfast lineup that is authentically Taco Bell.
Likewise, Dunkin’ Donuts has raised their standards (and price points) on their breakfast sandwiches by featuring a limited-time offer, the Chicken Apple Sausage Sandwich. Innovative menu items like this draw attention to the early-morning daypart and encourage consumers to try the food.
Is breakfast right for your challenger brand?
Looking at upward trends can make it tempting to scramble and launch a breakfast menu at your quick-service restaurant. But it’s important to thoroughly plan ahead and conduct a cost-benefit analysis to ensure adding a daypart makes sense for your challenger brand and your customers. It doesn’t work for everyone.
Wendy’s offers breakfast in limited markets after disappointing nationwide breakfast sales. “We have tested breakfast many times over the years and we feel, as virtually the only large national chain that hasn’t gotten into breakfast, it’s very difficult to enter that space today and commit the kind of marketing resources that we feel would be necessary to really entrench ourselves successfully,” said Wendy’s CEO Emil Brolick in an interview with Bloomberg TV.
However, just because one chain couldn’t find the perfect mix of marketing and menu doesn’t mean you and your challenger brand shouldn’t try to carve your niche in this growing daypart.
Here are 6 tips for marketing breakfast at quick-service restaurants:
- Be creative, but be YOU – Think about Taco Bell’s Crunchwrap, which takes a spin on the taco by creating a waffle-flavored shell. What are some of your unique or signature menu items that could be turned into breakfast food? Doing this will not only elevate the experience for diners, but by converting current menu items, you can take in-house ingredients and use them in a new way. Perhaps turn a popular chicken sandwich into a waffle chicken sandwich, or utilize the bacon from a bacon cheeseburger in a breakfast item. You can also rename the item using your own brand identity.
- Socialize – Blitz your customers with a social media campaign in the weeks before launching your menu and during the first week of your launch. Consider offering a digital coupon for a free cup of coffee with purchase or other incentive. Use in-store signage, especially at your drive-thru window. Consider printed receipt or bag coupons to drive traffic.
- Grab & Go – Feature items like breakfast sandwiches or burritos that are easy to eat while commuting or heading to school. About two-thirds of restaurant morning meals are eaten off-premise, according to market research group NPD. Market these items in your social media campaign and on signage noting the convenience, ease, and no-mess appeal.
- Don’t forget the Joe – You don’t want to drive your customers to Starbucks to get coffee to go with your food. (They serve grab-and-go items there, too.) You’ve got to be able to offer a quality cup of strong coffee. And ditch the powdered non-dairy creamer. Consider offering options such as lattes or espressos for greater price points.
- Timing is everything – Morning customers are likely on their way to work or school and have little time to wait. Speed, accuracy, and good service are even more critical during this daypart to keep customers happy. Before launching, ensure you have the right staff in place who can handle the early schedule and fast pace. Great customer service can be a key differentiator for a challenger brand and can lead to launch success.
- Wi-Fi – To satisfy morning customers inside your store who may be busily checking email at the start of their workday, offer free Wi-Fi and advertise its presence with prominent signs. You could also create a device charging station for customers to get a quick battery boost while waiting for their orders. The added electrical cost will be minimal—customers will only plug in momentarily—but the good will you’ll build will be priceless.
A final note: While much has been made of McDonald’s extending several breakfast menu items to all day, think carefully before leaping into a breakfast 24/7 offering. An initial rollout during traditional breakfast hours will let you test how your customer base enjoys your menu and whether the new daypart is right for your particular challenger brand. If it is, you can always launch an all-day menu with all the fanfare that entails and a social media blitz.