How QSR Brands Can Best Position Themselves for Non-Traditional Expansion

As travel and leisure activities continue to rebound from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, quick-service restaurant (QSR) brands like ours have a unique opportunity to position themselves for growth in non-traditional venues like airports, casinos, college campuses, sports stadiums and other travel centers. People are eager to resume their travel journeys and fill up their social calendars, which has allowed QSRs to tap into the demand for quick and convenient food options by expanding their presence in these places.

Through my 20-plus years of experience working in the foodservice and franchising industry, I’ve observed that for QSR brands to position themselves for growth in these types of spaces, it’s critical to emphasize brand recognition and consistency as you continue to grow your footprint. Airports, for example, are often bustling with activity and distractions, so QSRs need to create a memorable and recognizable brand image that stands out from the competition. We’ve executed on this front at Bojangles by partnering with experienced operators who have quality service and the customer experience at top of mind. This has led to consistency and an increased brand awareness beyond our bread-and-butter markets in the Southeast region of the country.

Here are a few other elements that our team thinks about to further position the concept for non-traditional growth.

Embrace the Power of Technology

One of the biggest drivers of non-traditional growth in the restaurant industry is technology. Consumers today expect convenience, speed and efficiency, and restaurant brands that fail to embrace digital solutions risk falling behind. Mobile ordering, contactless payments and self-service kiosks can all improve the speed and convenience of the ordering process, which is especially important in the fast-paced environment of an airport terminal or in between quarters at a sporting event. 

Over the last couple of years, we’ve enhanced our new mobile app to support order ahead, mobile pay, coupon redemptions and additional functions that increase overall engagement and accessibility with our brand no matter the setting. Additionally, our Bojangles app now offers dynamic content experiences including real-time order status, personalized menu views and one-click ordering so that waiting in line is no longer needed. QSRs that have technological advancements like these can provide a seamless customer experience that sets them apart from competitors and make them attractive concepts for non-traditional spaces.

Experimenting with Menu Innovation

With a wide variety of guests passing through these types of venues, QSRs have an opportunity to feature menu options that cater to different tastes and dietary preferences. For us, breakfast has been a key differentiator for non-traditional growth opportunities with around 37 percent of our systemwide sales coming before 11:00 a.m. A strong performance across all dayparts with our core items allows us to not only be a natural fit for non-traditional venues open round the clock, but also test new offerings that can appeal to a wider audience.

Partner and Collaborate

Finally, QSR brands can leverage partnerships and collaborations to further grow through non-traditional expansion. By teaming up with ambassadors and influencers in these segments, concepts can reach new audiences and gain exposure to a wider customer base. In our case, sports have always been engrained in Bojangles, and due to that relationship, we were one of the first major restaurant chains to partner with college athletes through the Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) policy. These partnerships have expanded our reach to target audiences and have increased our brand awareness in new markets.

Overall, quick service restaurant brands that focus on brand recognition, technology, menu innovation and strategic partnerships can position themselves for growth in unique venues that can be effective in driving expansion in untapped markets. As social activities and travel continue to rebound, brands that invest in these strategies are likely to see success in this increasingly competitive market.