A recurring series recapping important events, conferences, and shows for our readers. To stay updated on our event schedule please follow us on Twitter.


The Restaurant Franchising & Innovation Summit is an annual conference hosted by Networld Media Group that explores how franchised restaurant concepts use innovation in a variety of forms — from experience innovation to kitchen innovation to menu innovation and beyond — as a catalyst for franchise expansion. Among the great panel discussions and keynote speeches, we picked up on a couple of key themes that directly impact the digital and mobile marketing worlds.

“Control” has always been an important part of the equation for franchisors. As franchises grow, the more imperative control and insights become, which makes the reliability and intuitiveness of the various operating platforms pressing concerns. Control offers peace of mind: corporate departments need confidence and assurances that brand images and operational procedures will be implemented consistently in each restaurant.  In the growing digital and mobile marketing realms, this impact is felt by maintaining consistent brand messaging across the franchisee, while empowering the franchisee to personalize or localize relevance. At scale, however, this process can prove laborious if the respective platform does not provide control – and you will be left with nothing but a headache!

Consumer knowledge is powerful. Providing value to an audience where uninformed can be a daunting task. It’s important to always be learning about your customers. Where can you do that? Social media. Company social accounts are not meant to be treated solely as distribution channels. Next time you’re on Twitter, pay attention to what your audience is saying and engage with them. Start building relationships and watch as your customer loyalty skyrockets. These efforts can be tedious – however, they will pay dividends in the long haul; think marathon, not sprint!

We were thrilled to hear mobile messaging (SMS and MMS) redemption rates were substantially higher versus email redemption rates across the board for all restaurant brands in attendance. Certainly a sensible finding  given the average consumer has four email addresses and only one mobile number

Below are some of our thoughts on a few particularly relevant sessions

Conference Agenda

  • Social Media Is Running (Not Ruining) Your Restaurant… Why That’s A Good Thing
  • Customer Experience: Is There an App for That?
  • International Franchise Development & Expansion: Why You Don’t Have to be Big to Go Big
  • How to Create A Franchise-Friendly Supply Chain
  • To Catch a Millennial: How to Attract Young Entrepreneurs to Your Franchise
  • Kitchen Design and Technology: 5 Ways to Improve Foodservice Operations
  • It’s Time To Grow… Where Do I Go?
  • Teaching Your Franchisees the Importance of Digital Branding and Social Media
  • Should My Franchise Cater?
  • Franchise Financing 201: Have You Explored All Funding Options?
  • State of the Restaurant Industry
  • Are You Embracing the Internet of Things in Your Franchise?
  • Innovation through New Products, Marketing and In-Store Design

Session Summary: Customer Experience – Is There an App For That?

For many years, Waterfall has been educating the market on where mobile apps fit into the larger mobile engagement strategy, which was the focal point of this session. Travis Wagoner, an editor at FastCasual.com, published an excellent recap of the session here – a must read for anyone in the restaurant space responsible for driving the mobile experience.

Since 2008, many brands (across all segments) rushed into building mobile apps and considered this their strategic approach to mobile – a flawed approach on many fronts. Of all the events we’ve attended over the years, this was the first time where the strengths and weaknesses of mobile apps were so clearly communicated to the audience.

Mobile apps appeal to a certain portion of a brand’s customer base, typically the most loyal customers that download your app are your most valuable customers. Treat them like gold as they will spend more, visit regularly and offer invaluable feedback about your business.

But what about the rest of your patrons? The most successful apps only penetrate ~10% of a customer base. Not everyone wants to download an app, but many still offer significant value. These are important buyers that represent 90% of your customers, and cannot be ignored. Moreover, they continue to represent the valued millennial customer, who tends to only communicate with brands over mobile and social.  By using other effective mobile tactics, you can convert a wider base into just as valuable of an advocate as the individual that downloads (and uses) your app!

Session Summary: Teaching Your Franchisees the Importance of Digital Branding and Social Media

Moderator: Matt Silk (Head of Strategy, Waterfall)

Panelists: Christine Ferris (Director of PR, Smashburger), Jeff Jackson (President, Billy Sims BBQ), Stacey Kane (Chief Marketing Officer, East Coast Wings & Grill)

One of the biggest challenges facing marketers of multi-unit franchises concepts is the dissemination of information down the proverbial organizational food chain: from the corporate marketing department to the franchisee, running his or her restaurant(s) every day. Namely, how does a marketer relay the nuance of certain marketing initiatives across mobile, digital, and social channels to ensure that branding is consistent, on message and – perhaps most importantly – compliant? This corporate-franchisee relationship was a consistent discussion point throughout the conference for each business unit (e.g. sales, operations, food service, HR, etc.), but was a particular challenge for the marketers in attendance.

In the “Teaching Your Franchisees the Importance of Digital Branding and Social Media” panel moderated by Waterfall’s Head of Strategy Matt Silk, panelists gathered to discuss their social media and digital branding objectives, challenges and processes in light of the franchisee relationship. Some observations:

  • Control over franchisee marketing activity is very dependent on the individual restaurant concept, and the social media channel. Billy Sims BBQ, a 50-unit barbecue concept, provides freedom to all franchise owners to control their individual Facebook pages. While Smashburger doesn’t provide franchisee ability to control their Facebook pages – “It’s hard to maintain a brand voice,” per Ferris – they can run their own Twitter pages, if they are consistent with Smashburger branding. East Coast Wings & Grill is similar, providing use of Twitter and Moment Feed to franchisees, but only allow corporate to run Facebook.
  • We heard similar varying levels of control, based on channels, from others at the conference. Some of this has to do with scale: the larger the organizations, the more difficult it becomes to provide access. However, this also provides an opportunity, since larger restaurants have the resources to devote to training, creating materials and creating economies of scale that can enable an effective franchise marketing suite.
  • Social media is great for listening and learning. Facebook, in particular, was cited by multiple panelists as a direct voice to hear positive and negative criticism, but also a way to directly respond to those customers and ensure they had a great experience.
  • New digital branding initiatives are seeing a lot of traction at Smashburger, particularly with mobile."Seeing great traction with new digital initiatives, especially SMS - higher redemptions than email."

Session Summary: Are You Embracing the Internet of Things in Your Franchise?

Moderator: Randy Landers (Director of Retail Solutions, EarthLink)

Panelists: Laura Rea Dickey (CIO, Dickey’s BBQ), Jeff Dinard (CIO, On The Border Mexican Grill), Alex Glaser (Director of Development, Harbor Research)

While a common term, what is exactly is the “Internet of Things” and how does it relate to restaurants? Per FastCasual.com:

“The official definition of the IOT is a “Scenario in which objects, animals or people are provided with unique identifiers and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.”

In a nutshell, it’s a fancy way of describing how we use technology, and there are a variety of exciting ways in which to embrace the IOT in your franchises. Today’s restaurant customers are increasingly mobile-savvy and digitally connected, and it’s critical for operators to stay ahead of the latest technological enhancements.”Are you embracing the internet of things (IoT) at your franchise?

Each panelist shared great insights throughout the session, but a few in particular stood out as relevant to the mobile and digital marketing world:

  • Customer data is essential, especially when creating a personalized experience for the customer. Per Dickey, Dickey’s BBQ, a 500+ unit concept, tries to use data and technology in any way it can to personalize the customer’s experience. Dinnard agreed: “Do anything you can to personalize [the customer’s] visit.”
  • The opportunity to create efficiency in a restaurant allows for the restaurant to operate and function at a higher capacity, which can have limitless potential for improvement. Per Dinard, “Reducing as much friction as possible in the ordering process allows servers to spend more time engaging with customers.” IoT has the potential to provide data that can streamline operations and customer service. For example, a technology like Beacons can have just as much marketing appeal (e.g. sending a customer an offer) as operational potential (e.g. notifying operations that someone picking up a “To Go” order has just arrived).

This is fantastic advice, relevant to every aspect of the restaurant experience, but particularly marketing. Don’t get distracted by the new shiny object; trust what works – and don’t lose sight of your end goals and objectives.

This is also a pertinent lesson we often learn in the mobile marketing world.

Upcoming Events in 2016

If you’re interested in connecting with Waterfall at similar events in the future, here’s what we have planned for the remainder of 2016!

  • NRA Marketing Executive Group Summit (Chicago, May 18-20) | More info
  • Connect Mobile Innovation Summit (Chicago, Aug 15-17) | More info
  • NRA Restaurant Innovation (Austin, Sep 13-15) | More info
  • Fast Casual Executive Summit (Orange County, Oct 9-11) | More info
  • Restaurant Finance & Development (Las Vegas Nov 14-16) | More info

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