The Q + A: Moe’s Southwest GrillWelcome to Moe’s! Popular US restaurant chain reveals AI-driven growth with a Southwestern flavor.

At Quantcast, we obsess over helping our clients grow using the latest AI and machine learning technology to uncover new revenue. In a new blog series, The Q+A, we are pulling back the curtain on brands and publishers to highlight their exceptional work, interesting culture, and biggest learnings.

For our inaugural post, we sat down with Alan Magee, Marketing Director of the restaurant chain Moe’s Southwest Grill, to talk AI, with a side of queso.

First launched in Atlanta in 2000, Moe’s now has 700 locations in the US and internationally. Alan and his team have been using Quantcast’s AI technology to uncover unexpected new insight into their audiences online to drive restaurant footfall offline.

What led Moe’s Southwest Grill to turn to Quantcast?

Up until a few years ago, the Moe’s marketing strategy focused largely on national broadcast media. We found that the broadcast spend was hard to correlate to in-store foot traffic, and we had the opportunity to expand marketing efforts for more coverage throughout the year. When I joined the team in 2016, I started planning for the next year and knew that the team needed to focus on connecting with more consumers while driving in-store traffic. Starting that year, we made the shift to an all-digital national strategy, still using traditional broadcast media for local markets.

We knew that it was important to include Quantcast in our plan so we could learn more about our audience and have the ability to deliver different brand messages to different segments in real time. We also wanted to measure our results more effectively. For example, we wanted to know if, when a consumer saw an ad for one of our limited time offers like the Chicken, Bacon, Avocado Bowl, they changed their behavior and visited a Moe’s location to purchase this menu item. Over the course of the campaign, Quantcast helped us increase our in-store foot traffic by 40 percent.

What insight did you find the most surprising over the course of the campaign with Quantcast?

Image: Moe’s Southwest Grill

We were surprised to learn that the specific messages targeted to one segment of core customers actually resonated with another core customer segment. One message, Moe’s free chips and salsa with every order, targeted to a young millennial audience. However, the message also resonated strongly with both Gen Xers and Baby Boomers. We always knew that there was a universal love for free chips and salsa, but we now know that there is also a universal love for other value messages like “Moe Mondays.” Moe Monday is an offer at each of our restaurants on our favorite day of the week! The offer starts at $5.99 for a burrito, chips, and salsa but varies by market.

What is the most exciting part of working at Moe’s?

What interested me in the Moe’s brand two years ago was the brand’s personality and the people. Everyone who works for Moe’s embodies the unique company culture, from employees at each of the 700 restaurants to the corporate team. The company culture at each of our 700 restaurants is unique, from the “Welcome to Moe’s!” greeting in the restaurant to the quirky menu names that are inspired by pop culture. This is carried out in each restaurant all the way up to the headquarters in Atlanta.

How would you define the company’s culture?

Moe’s is energetic and lively. It is not uncommon to hear “Welcome to Moe’s!” shouted across the office daily. The working environment is laid back and extremely creative. Working on a brand like Moe’s allows us to communicate about a brand with a bold personality, and, honestly, the creative executions are limitless. As cliché as it sounds, when you come to work you feel like you are working with family. There is a great deal of pride in the brand, especially from our franchisees, some of whom have been with the company for nearly 18 years! There is also a ton of growth opportunity at Moe’s, with more than 700 locations and counting.

How do you prove to your key stakeholders the value of marketing and advertising?

In the fast-casual restaurant business, it is all about being able to show that all of the work and money spent on advertising ladders back to in-store sales and foot traffic. We work hard to ensure that there is a direct correlation between dollars spent and dollars put back into the business from a revenue perspective. When we can track a digital campaign with an increase in in-store traffic and an increase in ROI, it is a big win.

Does machine learning and AI play a role in your business today? How do you see AI impacting the food and beverage industries over the next 5-10 years?

We are currently using AI as it relates to programmatic advertising via machine learning. We also use AI to find our most valuable guests, to discover look-alike audiences, and, of course, to decide how and when to place ads. However, thinking a bit more broadly, AI is going to be huge for the industry, specifically with CRM and loyalty programs.

Online ordering, mobile apps, and third-party delivery are revolutionizing the way that brands like Moe’s are engaging with their consumers, and I think that we are close to seeing clear leaders emerge in terms of who is using AI to creatively and effectively power these programs. There is a lot of opportunity with the Moe’s loyalty database. We launched it two years ago and already have nearly two million members!

As a marketer, what keeps you up at night?

That is a tough question. For me, it is how fast the industry is changing now more than ever. There are countless new and different platforms, technology, partners, and products in the marketplace, and it is important to be educated on these and know which methods could be most effective to grow the business. It is extremely important to keep up with the pace of changes and disruption to stay relevant in our industry.

After 18 years in the business, how does Moe’s continue to stay relevant to consumers?

Image: Moe’s Southwest Grill

Moe’s continues to focus on the things that make us different – starting with the famous “Welcome to Moe’s!”; our delicious queso (aka liquid gold); and fresh, flavorful menu items. We have never been afraid of new flavors and spice – many of our seasonal salsas use some of the world’s hottest peppers, like ghost pepper and Carolina Reaper. We continue to keep up with the latest culinary trends to deliver recipes and menu items that meet and exceed our fans’ expectations. We are focused on bringing our food to wherever our fans are, wherever they want to enjoy it.