“From my 40 years of following restaurant operations, the single most important factor to ensuring restaurant survival is testing new products.”

— John Gordon, founder, Pacific Management Consulting Group

Restaurant consumers crave a perpetual stream of new products and new twists on old ones. But if you’re a multi-unit restaurant operator, adding a new menu item can be costly and risky. That’s why it’s standard practice to test the new item in a few markets before making the decision on whether or not to offer it everywhere. That approach enables you to find out quickly if the item isn’t popular and let it fail, or, if it is popular, to accelerate plans for rolling it out nationally so you can maximize the impact on sales and revenue.

How can operators get the fast, honest, unfiltered feedback they need when testing a new item? By listening to and analyzing what guests have to say in social media.

Analyzing the response in social to a new menu item delivers insights faster and cheaper than focus groups and surveys, and enables you to get feedback from a much larger and more diverse consumer population. There’s no need to wait for survey results or stats from sales—you can get instant feedback from consumers as they try your new menu item. You can then use that feedback to quickly modify your promotions and even your product to improve results.

Analyze the Item’s Word Cloud

You can start by using social analytics to create and analyze a word cloud for the new menu item. Our eBook, “Social’s Favorite Multi-Unit Restaurants,” has an entire section on Chipotle’s testing of its new Sofritas menu item. Here, for example, is the word cloud that shows what terms consumers are using most in social to describe the item.

food-feedback

The cloud at left shows how much Sofritas is dominating the conversation about Chipotle and the cloud on the right shows exactly what they’re saying.

Note that online conversational data is being collected without any compromise to the sample. In other words, each consumer is posting updates with his or her uninhibited reactions to an experience with Chipotle’s Sofritas, with absolutely no influence from a more-traditional survey or facilitated focus group.

Act on the Item’s Brand Passion Index

You can create a Brand Passion Index (BPI) for your item to dig deeper into the buzz, sentiment and passion around the item. Analyzing those aspects of the response can help you make decisions on what to do next.

  • Buzz—Use Buzz to determine your item’s share of voice among its category competitors and measure buzz for your brand before and after introducing the new menu item. See how it’s affecting the overall perception of your brand.
  • Net Sentiment—Understand Net Sentiment for your brand and compare it to the Net Sentiment for the new menu item. Positive sentiment for the item that’s even higher than that for your brand is a good indication the item should be introduced more widely. You can also find real-time consumer insights into the positive or negative sentiment around the item that can support the business case for introducing or dropping it. And you can analyze Sentiment by test market to understand why the reaction in different locations may be different.
  • Passion Intensity—Do people like or love the new item? Their passion intensity can help you predict whether they’ll buy it again or recommend it others. In the unlikely event of a crisis with the new item, you can stay one step ahead in crisis communications by identifying topics with low Buzz, high Net Sentiment and high Passion Intensity, allowing you and your team to address the issue before a crisis spins out of control.

How Social Can Publicize Test Items

Social can also be a huge help in getting the word out about your test. An article in Restaurant News describes what happened last year when Taco Bell began testing its  new waffle taco: “The hot item in this test version is expected to be the waffle taco, which the company micro-tested in five Southern California restaurants earlier this year to work out operational aspects. An Instagram post by a customer who stumbled across the waffle taco went viral, sparking about 4 million impressions, according to company estimates.”

Ask Consumers What They Want

In addition to getting feedback on new items you’re testing, you can take a proactive approach and use social to gather customer opinions about bringing menu items back from the dead. Tim Hortons is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year by asking customers to vote online for the menu item they’d like to see return. There’s a choice of five—one from each decade the coffee-and-donuts specialist has been in business—and the winner, announced in May, will be back on Tim Hortons’ menus by the end of the year.

Or you can do what Pita Pit did and ask customers to name a new item. The chain’s new limited-time offering features prime rib and provolone, but it hasn’t officially been named yet. The 300-unit, Idaho-based chain is depending on fans to help with that part. Pita Pit’s “Name That Pita” contest is asking fans to come up with their most creative names for the pita after trying it. Once the names are submitted on Pita Pit’s Facebook page, fans will be able to vote on the best name.

The takeaway? Social media can give you fast, unbiased, broad-based and inexpensive feedback on your new menu items. That kind of credible, qualitative information can help you make the right decision on your item.

To read more about social analysis and multi-unit restaurants, just download our complete eBook, Social’s Favorite Multi-Unit Restaurants.