Labor Day is meant to be a celebration of American workers – a day they can take off from work to enjoy some time outside. And with the US unemployment rate recently dropping to 4.3%, there are a whole lot of people likely to be celebrating. More free time for consumers means an ideal opportunity for restaurant chains eager to fill their tables, and increase their sales, during the holiday.
Roughly 35 million people will travel this Labor Day weekend to vacation with family or take a small break. While this is a boon to airlines and other transportation companies, it’s also an opportunity for retailers (who are well-known to compete for Labor Day sales dollars) and restaurants. Below, a look at how various chains have utilized Labor Day restaurant marketing tactics to their advantage.
For 16 years now, Olive Garden locations throughout the country have used Labor Day as an excuse to treat local First Responders to lunch. While the pasta chain hasn’t devoted a lot of marketing to the project, it’s certainly generated earned media.
While most restaurants would prefer that guests come in to eat, many realize how popular Labor Day is for grilling at home. Which is why LongHorn Steakhouse offers its own experts to help diners do just that. The LongHorn Steakhouse Grill Us Hotline returns each Labor Day weekend to provide tips from the restaurant’s certified Grill Masters, who prepare every grilled item on the LongHorn Steakhouse menu. Grillers can either call or live text the Grill Masters during Hotline hours to receive answers to all of their grilling questions. In addition, the chain offers a website full of chef videos, recipes, tips and tricks (along with, of course, links to the restaurant’s own menu and convenient ways to order online).
While it wasn’t specifically tied to Labor Day, Burger King used the long weekend in 2016 to launch its grilled hot dog, marking them at just $1 on Saturday and Sunday. No coupon was required, but there was a limit of 5 per person and the deal was only valid for the Classic Grilled Dog. The move paid off, with Restaurant Brands International (the parent company) reporting sales rose 4.6% globally, due in part to the addition and launch of “premium” menu items, like the grilled hot dog.
Firehouse Subs took to Twitter to implore diners to use their day off to eat at the sandwich shop, tweeting a coupon good for a free medium sub with the purchase of an additional sub, chips, and a drink.
Rather than asking guests to dine in, Spaghetti Warehouse used Labor Day 2016 as an opportunity to publicize its family takeout meals, with a Family Feast for 4 special. “Family style” meals, which typically come with an entree and sides (enough to feed the whole family, naturally) have grown in popularity in recent years. For quick-service chains, they allow for a boost in sales during dinner, typically the least popular day-part for a drive-thru.
In years past, Brazilian steakhouse Fogo de Chão has enticed the whole family to stop in on Labor Day weekend, by offering complimentary dining for all children 12 and under. Lone Star Steakhouse offered a similar promotion, with a coupon allowing kids to eat free with the purchase of an adult entree through Labor Day.
In an effort to lure customers and boost business after its reputation-destroying food safety scandal, Chipotle offered children ages 12 and under a free kids’ meal with the purchase of a regular burrito, bowl, or salad during the month of September 2016. While it wasn’t explicitly about Labor Day, the burrito chain was able to piggy-back on the marketing push of September.
As a culmination to Summer, Dairy Queen hosted a giveaway the day after Labor Day, offering free Oreo Frappes (one per customer) from 2 to 5 PM at participating locations. The freebie did double-duty, bringing customers in to Dairy Queen, and also promoting the chain’s “Hardest Working Happy Hour,” when specially-priced frozen drinks are available weekdays at, you guessed it, 2 to 5 p.m.
To put his signature Italian spin on a traditional Labor Day cookout, Top Chef alum Mike Isabella offers an Italian-style barbecue (complete with brisket, ribs, cacio e pepe pasta, baked white beans, and artichoke slaw) on Labor Day weekend at his DC restaurant, Graffiato.
Ice cream chain Baskin Robbins is doing double-duty this Labor Day, offering deals and promoting its app in the process. Deals like $2 off Polar Pizza and $1 off ice creams are only available to those who use the chain’s mobile app.
Gili’s Beach Club (located at Trump International Beach Resort) offers a slew of seasonal specials for the 2017 Labor Day weekend: in addition to apps like bourbon honey and Tabasco chicken wings served with cucumber ranch dip, there are “Big Kids” watermelon lemonades spiked with vodka and “No Labor” beer buckets for $20.
An estimated 25% of Americans will travel over Labor Day weekend; 128.5 million will enjoy a cookout; and the average Labor Day weekend shopper will spend $58 in the process. In fact, some surveys peg spend even higher, between $68 and $150 dollars. And while much of that shopping will be done online, a full 26% will be in-person (with 41% of transactions being completed both in-store and online).
In other words, the opportunity is great for restaurants, provided they can maintain their brand standards, focus on a range of advertising channels, and ensure they’re marketing to specific segments (among the countless other marketing tips to consider).
Aaron Allen & Associates is a leading global restaurant industry consultancy specializing in growth strategy, marketing, branding, commercial due diligence for emerging restaurant chains and prestigious private equity firms. Aaron has personally lead boots-on-the-ground assignments in 68 countries for clients ranging from startups to multinational companies posting in excess of $37 billion. Collectively, his clients around the globe generate over $100 billion annually and span six continents and more than 100 countries.