Just as summer winds down and families return from vacation, back-to-school season ramps up. Moms and dads will soon be extra busy juggling work with soccer matches, scouting events, and social studies projects, naturally leading to more eating out.
Even if your restaurant isn’t next door to a school or university, back-to-school season can still be an excellent time for you to reconnect with old customers, attract new ones, and build lasting loyalty.
Want to take advantage? Here are five ways your restaurant can make the most of back-to-school time.
1. Tweak your menu
Consider incorporating one or two items catering to health-conscious students and parents who may be vegan-curious or exploring vegetarianism. These days, even fast-food restaurants are experiencing an increase in plant-based meal consumption among Gen Z and millennial diners. According to the International Food Information Council, 53% of Gen Z and 66% of millennial diners have tried plant-based meat, with 38% of Gen Z and 43% of millennials eating it once a week.
Another idea for a menu update is to create child-friendly versions of meals you’re already creating. According to the Specialty Food Association, the research firm Mintel found that 76% of parents prefer that restaurants serve child portions from their menu instead of having a separate kids’ menu that primarily offers unhealthy options like pizzas, hot dogs, and chicken nuggets. For example, you could swap regular cheese for cheddar or leave off spicy ingredients to make your meals kid-friendly.
2. Offer back-to-school promotions
Another strategy is to create promotions and discounts for students, teachers, and other school staff. Offering deals like “student combos” and “teacher appreciation savings” can entice those groups to visit your restaurant.
You could also offer limited-time events like a “school supplies giveaway,” where each kids’ meal comes with crayons, pencils, or a notebook, or “school spirit night,” where you decorate the dining room with pops of school color to attract teachers, families, and students.
In 2022, Blaze Pizza, a fast-casual pizza franchise, capitalized on the back-to-school season. As part of its back-to-school restaurant campaign, the company introduced value bundles and offered free Cheesy Bread for school employees.
O’Charley’s Restaurant also appreciates educators. During the 2023 back-to-school season, teachers and school staff can enjoy a full-size appetizer simply by presenting a valid school ID.
3. Collaborate with schools
Becoming a fixture in your community is another idea for taking advantage of back-to-school season. Consider sponsoring a sports team, orchestra, or PTA by offering report-card rewards or by catering at sports meets, concerts, and parent-teacher evenings.
Yet another idea is to launch a school fundraising program. A fundraiser will allow you to partner with schools while serving meals—a win for you, the school, and the community.
Chipotle’s fundraising program, which donates 33% of event sales directly to its partners, is making a difference for schools. One band director shared this testimonial on the Chipotle fundraising website:
“The support that I’ve received through Chipotle with doing these fundraisers is beyond words. It has literally allowed this program to survive. With instruments that keep breaking, we may have had to dissolve the program altogether.”
Many smaller restaurants also offer fundraising programs to inspire you, including:
- The Chicago-based Portillo’s, known for its Chicago street food
- Bertucci’s, a brick-oven pizzeria that operates along the East coast
- Houlihan’s, based out of Kansas and offering “a taste of home”
4. Announce a student loyalty program
Does your restaurant offer a student loyalty program? Back-to-school season is a great time to announce it.
PYMNTS, the news organization focused on payment processing, says that more than half of all diners now use restaurant loyalty programs—49% at quick-service restaurants and 34% at full-service restaurants.
If you’re looking for inspiration for a new student loyalty program or thinking about upgrading an existing program, check out this article by Open Loyalty: 10 successful examples of restaurant loyalty programs.
5. Embrace online ordering
Allowing diners to order online can be a game-changer. According to GroceryDive, most consumers—especially busy parents—want convenience. And from the diner’s perspective, there’s (almost) no greater convenience than being able to skip the wait and pick up a hot, ready-to-go meal after ordering online.
From your perspective as a restaurateur, embracing online ordering pays, perhaps even more so than partnering with delivery services. By going digital, you avoid sharing your earnings with third-party delivery platforms while eliminating the uncertainty of relying on drivers you don’t manage.
Here are a few interesting stats about online ordering:
- Mobile ordering represents 60% of all digital restaurant orders (source).
- People who order online spend more, with 34% of consumers spending at least $50 per order when ordering food online (source).
- A whopping 70% of consumers want to order directly from a restaurant instead of using a third party (source).
If you plan to accept orders online, keep your diners in mind. Research published in the European Journal of Management and Business Economics explored how diners perceive and interact with online ordering systems. The study revealed that the factor most influencing diners’ attitudes was the “ease of use” of the system.
For best results, the study’s authors propose focusing on the following aspects of your online ordering initiative:
- Ensuring an enjoyable ordering process.
- Creating an app that’s easy for users to navigate.
- Prompting social sharing
- Providing incentives for word-of-mouth referrals.
- Designing the platform to cater to food ordering specifically.
What’s next, now that school’s back in session?
As you consider how your restaurant can make the most of the back-to-school season, think about how to price your menu for maximum profit. Stellar Menus helps you effortlessly manage prices and protect your margin to grow your restaurant and make more money. Schedule a demo today so we can show you how.