Fries Drove Traffic During the Pandemic: Learn How to Capitalize on the Trend
May 19, 2021
More than half of U.S. adults have been vaccinated against COVID-19, and many are beginning to venture out to their favorite restaurants. You can expect the competition will be fierce for summer traffic, both in-house and off-premise.
How can you draw in more of the diners you need to rebuild after the pandemic?
Two words: french fries.
You may already know that, aside from being the most profitable food item on the menu, fried potatoes are the #1 favorite side dish in the U.S.1
The lesson here? Great fries are a magnet for both traffic and profits.
Lead with fries, the money will follow
Since shutdowns began in March 2020, most people could only get decent fries at drive-thru's and sometimes delivery. But that didn’t dampen the public’s enthusiasm for their favorite side:
According to research from The NPD Group from April 2020:
- Fries are growing in importance on delivery menus faster than any other item
- Fry servings at delivery are up +81% versus 2018
- Fries are among the top 2 menu items served in QSR for every mode of service (delivery, takeout, dine-in, and drive-thru)
- Fries are among the top 3 menu items served in casual dining for every mode of service (dine-in, delivery and takeout)
Best of all, fries and fry-based appetizers have very low food cost per serving but command juicy margins—the highest of any food item on your menu.
Coming out of the pandemic, your customers are going to be hungry for hot, freshly cooked fries when they dine in (or dine at home). Now is the time to capitalize on their cravings!
How to market fries for maximum impact
Helloooo—fries are a lot more than a convenient side dish. They’re a golden opportunity to apply your creativity, differentiate your menu and drive traffic in the door. Here are a few tactics to consider:
- Hold a free fry day event. Nothing brings folks in the door like a free fries offer. You could take advantage of National French Fry Day on Friday, July 13th to schedule your event. But free fry day events work any day of the week, so the timing is really up to you (more on this below). Another event idea? Hold a “fry tasting” with flights of various fries matched with tasty dips and cold beverages. Download our free National French Fry Day Marketing Kit with print-ready files for posters, table tents and more.
- Create loaded fry appetizers. Loaded fries aren’t a new idea, but they’ve certainly proven their value in recent years. Choose recipes that fit your theme and keep them ultra-profitable by using the trim from your other dishes as toppings on your fries. See what makes a great loaded fry dish. »
- Offer fry charcuterie boards. This idea was catching on before COVID-19 hit but makes even more sense now. Consider replacing your high-food-cost meat and cheese board with a charcuterie board of various types of fries and signature dips. They’re easy to prepare, don’t require additional training or equipment, and shareable as all get out. Talk about an Instagram-friendly idea! Learn more. »
- Offer bottomless fries for dining in. Reward the folks coming back to your restaurant after the pandemic with all the fries they can eat, even if just for a limited time. It’s a great—and relatively inexpensive—way to show you appreciate their business.
- Ensure your fries will arrive crisp for off-premise customers. Takeout and delivery will remain important sources of business now and into the future. According to research, soggy fries were the #1 complaint of off-premise customers. But it doesn’t have to be. Simplot Delivery+™ Fries offer 10 different cuts of fries that stay crisp 40+ minutes! This is the longest hold time in the industry, and customers can even reheat them back to crispy perfection with just 20 seconds in the microwave at home. Choose unseasoned and seasoned cuts. View these products. »
- Limited time offers (LTOs) featuring fries. LTO’s give people a new reason to visit their favorite restaurants and a chance to try something new. Operators get a chance to test new products—like a fry with a unique shape or flavor profile, or a special loaded fry dish—to see if it’s worth adding to the regular menu. The fear of missing out on an LTO is enough to encourage orders. Download our free LTO ebook to see what's hot. »
- Offer multiple fries and upcharge for the additional value. An oldie, but a goodie. While uncoated and clear-coated fries comprise most of the fries consumed, a majority of operators offer more than one fry, typically ones with a seasoned batter, an eye-catching shape or both. These qualities add perceived value in the minds of customers and operators can easily upcharge for them. Simplot SIDEWINDERS™ Fries punch all of these tickets and make a great second fry that builds profit. View these products. »
How to get the word out and drive traffic
- Determine the best day - look at local events and make sure you don’t compete
- Add to local event calendars
- Contact your local food writer
- Contact your local food bloggers - look at hashtags - run a contest with them
- Create an event on Facebook - 1 month in advance
- Send an email to your customer list - 2 weeks, 1 week, day before, day of
- Create a content calendar for social - promote the posts, place ads (a good idea for promotion is 1-6% of total sales for the event)
The appeal of fries is even stronger after COVID
When the pandemic hit, dining restrictions forced Americans to cook for themselves. Try as they might, there were some restaurant dishes they simply couldn’t replicate at home. Fries are one of these items. This fact makes fries one of the most effective levers you have to bring customers in and win their loyalty. And when you’ve considered their contribution to the bottom line, it’s time to give fries a starring role in your pandemic recovery.
1 The NPD Group/Crest®, Dec. 2019