When management at P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, the Scottsdale, Ariz.-headquarted casual dining concept with more than 197 restaurants in the U.S., implemented Quick Response (QR) codes into its marketing, they knew they'd have to work through some of growing pains of being an early adopter of the technology. At first, for example, codes were printed on coasters, but management noticed they were overlooked by guests and opted to print them on menus to heighten visibility. Today, P.F. Chang's boasts a successful program that is helping expand the the brand's reach, and the restaurants are welcoming new customers into the fray. As Mary Melton, P.F. Chang’s Director of Beverage, tells VIBE, the Asian bistro is growing exponentially by embracing technology and engaging customers in new mediums.
VIBE: When did you start using QR Codes at P.F. Chang’s?
Mary Melton: We started about a year ago to promote our Vineyard 518 wines. At first we printed them on a small card that we could hand out to guests. Then we graduated to using them on coasters and now menus. We’re putting them on menus now to take advantage of the notion that they are more visible and not covered by a glass — out of sight, out of mind.
VIBE: Where do the QR codes take your guests?
Melton: Right now, it takes them to featured videos, and soon they will be taken to various sections of our happy hour micro-site.
VIBE: How do you use QR Codes to promote P.F. Chang’s happy hour?
Melton: We’ve got a great new micro-site, which has a mobile version. Our happy hour is brand new to a vast majority of our guests, and the QR codes will be a great way to give them added content while they are there in the restaurant. We have the ability to give a deeper look into our happy hour to people who are already in the restaurant. As happy hour grows, it will be a great tool to keep the education process going.
VIBE: What’s the overall customer reaction, as well as staff reaction to the codes?
Melton: Both guests and staff love it. It’s fun and easy, and we don’t have all the waste from tradition paper promotions.
VIBE: What’s the overall expense when using QR Codes? Do you find the benefit outweighing the cost?
Melton: The expense is negligent from a hard cost. Printing them on promotional materials is just a matter of planning ahead and having a strategy and dedicated content for them. The biggest expense most brands face is the variable cost from the education process of how they work. Educating our guests about how they work from the software installation to how to use them as an information tool takes time. Luckily, every brand using them is one collective team trying to educate users.
The benefits can outweigh the costs, if used properly as a support piece. The biggest mistake a brand can make is not adapting specific content for them. I think most brands have one shot to prove the guest value behind them. If you link a QR code to a non-mobile friendly Website or to the same content that is in front of them, guests will not find any value in their time to do engage with the QR codes. It needs to be relevant, new and accessible via a mobile device.
VIBE: What other social marketing strategies do you use?
Melton: For nightlife and the bar, we are learning to walk a fine line between what we can promote, from an alcohol perspective, to what is “cool” to our guests. We will heavily promote any in-restaurant promotions with our Website. That is still our greatest tool in terms of online guest traffic. It is also our most controllable channel, where we can control the look, user experience and information we put forward.
We also have a large fan base of email subscribers that we like to tap. We can segregate our users by age, assuring us that any wine, spirits or beer message we send is being targeted to the right people. Email is a great way to get your message in front of people who have already told us they want messaging from us.
Finally, we are slowly wading into more active social media channels like Facebook and Twitter. These channels are in real time, and they are a great way to have a two-way conversation with our guests about everything. The more content and conversation we have here, the more we can extend our brand presence and the way people interact with us into the digital space.