Restaurants may have enjoyed a day off work around Labor Day weekend, but restaurant brands kept busy the entire first week of September by posting content to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to stay top of mind with guests.

NRN Social 200: Value offers boost restaurants in August
NRN Social 200: Chains stick with effective strategies
The NRN Social 200 index

Many of the brands with the largest weekly gains in NRN’s Social 200 index score from Aug. 31 to Sept. 6 tried a broad, balanced approach to social marketing, whether by prolifically posting different kinds of content on a platform like Facebook or by staying active across all three networks.

Though diversified content was a theme among the week’s top gainers, in several cases, food shots stood out among fans and encouraged the most engagement. That was the case with Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, which had its first appearance on the Social 200’s weekly winners list in a big way. Firehouse Subs and Carvel Ice Cream were also weekly winners thanks to engaging food shots, though not for lack of mixing in other kinds of compelling content.

1. Red Robin Gourmet Burgers
Weekly percent change: +68.0%
Index score: 36.47

Casual-dining chain Red Robin Gourmet Burgers shows a balanced approach to its social media marketing, with its Facebook content leading the way for its Social 200 score but its Twitter and YouTube activity also contributing. The brand also varies its content from photos of its burgers and drinks to branding materials and philanthropic updates.

Tracking Facebook posts for the past several months, however, showed that Red Robin consistently gets the most social engagement for its menu items, rather than for some campaigns, like its recent tie-in with the movie, “The Wolverine.” During the first week of September, Red Robin picked up the frequency of its Facebook posting around food and beverage, getting above average likes and shares for posts about the Chili Chili Cheeseburger, the Oktoberfest Bürger and the Blue Moon Beer Shake. The chain’s concurrent tweets about the same menu items, branded with a “#MillionReasons” hash tag, also encouraged a fair number of replies from followers eager to share how much they liked or desired each item.

2. Captain D’s Seafood Kitchen
Weekly percent change: +15.8%
Index score: 10.90

Fast-casual seafood chain Captain D’s gets the majority of its social media interaction from its Facebook page, where most of the recent content has been hooked to the $4.99 price point.

During the first few months of NRN’s coverage of the Social 200 index, price points have surfaced among the top weekly gainers, usually in the form of a discount offer or coupon rather than as a standard offer. However, Captain D’s has spent several weeks advertising its $4.99 Full Meal Deal combos on Facebook, both with a giveaway sweepstakes and a $4.99 Dare Days promotion. For the latter effort, Captain D’s has posed different challenges to Facebook fans to complete some task without spending more than $4.99, such as “Make a Coworker’s Day.” The chain tracks all participation in the promotion by having fans upload pictures of their handiwork to the brand Facebook wall, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest with the “#DareDays” hash tag.

Eat 'n Park, Firehouse Subs, Carvel find success

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3. Eat’n Park
Weekly percent change: +13.3%
Index score: 10.33

Though family-dining chain Eat’n Park is one of the few foodservice brands to derive the majority of its Social 200 index score from YouTube, a Sept. 4 Facebook post celebrating the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team was the largest influencer of the chain’s double-digit gain for the first week of September.

The simple picture tied in several large brand equities Eat’n Park has cultivated for decades, including its signature Smiley Cookies, which made the two zeroes in “.500,” a major statistical milestone for Pirates fans. The Major League team ended a streak of 20 straight losing seasons this year with a win on Sept. 4 that ensured the club would finish with a winning percentage of at least .500.

The post earned more than 520 likes and nearly 200 shares from fans around Pittsburgh, where Eat’n Park has most of its locations. The chain also began selling a “Bury the Streak Gift Box,” in which Smiley Cookies were sold in a plastic coffin.

4. Firehouse Subs
Weekly percent change: +10.1%
Index score: 20.47

Firehouse Subs also has a balanced social-media strategy, with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube interactions all contributing to its Social 200 index score. A “Test Kitchen Question” Facebook post garnered 625 responses, while its most-liked post was a reminder about free birthday subs in any Firehouse Restaurant.

On its YouTube channel, a trailer for its campy, fan-written “Return to Pork & Slaw Island” movie to promote the King’s Hawaiian Pork & Slaw Sandwich, has been running the past few weeks.

5. Carvel Ice Cream
Weekly percent change: +8.1%
Index score: 6.62

During the first week of September, Carvel Ice Cream brought about its first significant gain in Facebook engagement with a food shot of three new Sundae Dashers, made with Heath Bars, Oreos or Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. The brand is most active on Facebook with a diverse posting strategy of food shots, humor and special offers, but the food shot for this limited-time offer drove the most engagement, with nearly 150 likes and nearly 30 shares.

Contact Mark Brandau at
Follow him on Twitter: @Mark_from_NRN