Both large and small restaurant chains managed to produce major increases in their NRN Social 200 index scores from week to week in September, but size seemed to matter when it came to social-marketing strategies tied to products and menu items.

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The NRN Social 200 index

For the most part, the brands to bring about the largest increases in their Social 200 scores by promoting their menus were among the industry’s largest chains by domestic sales and system size. At the same time, while several smaller or emerging brands drove social-media engagement in line with their usual numbers on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube with their products and menu items, they made an even bigger impact with other strategies.

For example, September offered some brands the opportunity to attach their social marketing to playoff runs made by local sports teams. Many other restaurants participated in the month’s major philanthropic cause, Share Our Strength’s Dine Out for No Kid Hungry, and were rewarded with an outsize number of likes, shares and retweets from appreciative guests.

Menus move mega-chains’ numbers

In September, Red Robin Gourmet Burgers scored the largest one-week increase in its Social 200 score, rising 68 percent to 36.47 during the first week of the month. With more than 450 locations, Red Robin devotes its resources to a broad social-media strategy that promotes everything from menu items and brand slogans to philanthropic causes and movie tie-ins, such as May’s promotion of “The Wolverine.” However, the brand’s menu items consistently win the most likes, comments and shares on its Facebook page.

Red Robin

During the first week of September, Red Robin increased 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. Red Robin tweeted about those items simultaneously, branded with a “#MillionReasons” hash tag, which also encouraged a fair number of replies from followers eager to share how much they liked each item.

Chick-fil-A and Red Lobster also had double-digit gains in their already formidable index scores during the third week of September, and while both chains post and tweet all sorts of content, they had the greatest impact when talking about food.

Chick-fil-A executed its “Breakfast on Us” giveaway Sept. 9-14 and kept its social chatter going around its breakfast program with matching tweets and Facebook posts carrying the “#ChickenforBreakfast” hash tag, including a Sept. 20 picture of a breakfast sandwich on Facebook that garnered more than 15,700 likes, more than 600 comments and more than 400 shares. During that third week, Chick-fil-A’s index score climbed 19.9 percent to 46.02.

Red Lobster grew its Social 200 score 16.8 percent to 50.57 that same week, driven by food shots for its “Endless Shrimp” promotion. Red Lobster scored three Facebook pictures that earned more than 20,000 likes each, including a photo of its Shrimp Linguini Alfredo that garnered more than 113,750 likes, more than 5,100 shares and more than 1,900 comments. Pictures of the Lobster and Shrimp Quesadilla and the Lobster Grilled Cheese also received about 22,000 likes each.

Causes for celebration

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Smaller restaurant brands promoted their menu items as well, some successfully bringing about major gains in their Social 200 index scores, but other strategies often prevailed to make the biggest difference for mid-size and regional chains.

During September, when large and small restaurants were focused on Dine Out for No Kid Hungry, Togo’s Sandwiches and Bravo! Cucina Italiana saw their biggest jumps in social engagement by getting involved with the charity.


Togo’s had the highest increase for the second week of September, when its Social 200 score climbed 25.1 percent to 7.58. The brand’s other social-marketing campaign, a video series called “Togo’s Logo Q&A,” continued to be an entertaining piece of content, although the number of likes those posts typically got were only a few dozen in the early stages. However, Togo’s posts for Dine Out for No Kid Hungry received hundreds of likes, including more than 550 likes and more than three dozen shares for its first such post on Sept. 7.

Similarly, Bravo’s Social 200 score increased 22.1 percent to 6.78 during the third week of September, when the casual-dining brand pledged $1 to No Kid Hungry for every new like its Facebook page received. Bravo also promoted a $5 coupon for any customer who made a $5 donation to No Kid Hungry and pledged another $1 donation for every time that Facebook post was shared.

The week before, Long John Silver’s used its Facebook page for cause marketing and earned an 8.9-percent gain in its Social 200 score to 10.67 as a result. Rather than tie in with No Kid Hungry, Long John Silver’s talked up its long-running partnership with Children’s Miracle Network, using its promotion for National Talk Like a Pirate Day as the news hook. A picture the brand shared of a pirate-theme children’s hospital room, which Long John Silver’s used to remind fans that it sponsors Children’s Miracle Network, earned more than 330 likes and nearly 60 shares.

Winning with relevant news

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Still other small or regional brands were able to leverage the news that mattered to their fans, whether that news happened in food or in sports.

For example, Rally’s and Checkers, the sibling drive-thru brands that share social-media platforms, turned big news from competitor Burger King into a positive for their chains during the second week of September, when their collective NRN Social 200 score rose 13.6 percent to 11.77.

Checker's and Rally's

The brands’ most-engaging Facebook post of the period by far was an image of the Checkers Fry Lover’s Burger, a limited-time offer from last year, with the caption, “Anything they can do, we’ve already done better.” The post was referring to Burger King’s $1 French Fry Burger, introduced Sept. 1 as a limited-time offer. In addition to nearly 600 likes and nearly 60 shares, Checkers’ post received more than 35 comments, many sharing sentiments like, “No one beats the Checkers’ Fry Lover’s Burger” or “Checkers had this way before Burger King.”

For Pittsburgh-based family-dining chain Eat’n Park, the entire month of September was a social-media windfall as the Pittsburgh Pirates ended a streak of 20 consecutive losing seasons and played their way into Major League Baseball’s playoffs.

During the first week of September, a simple picture on Facebook 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,” celebrating the fact that the Pirates would finish with a winning percentage of at least .500. That Sept. 4 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.

Eat’n Park’s Social 200 index score that week rose 13.3 percent to 10.33, and as the Pirates kept up their winning ways throughout the month, the chain kept posting Pirates-related content, often with the “#RaisetheJollyRoger” hash tag. Eat’n Park brought about a 23.8-percent gain in its index score the last week of September as well.

Contact Mark Brandau at
Follow him on Twitter: @Mark_from_NRN