The Protein Bar chain of fast-casual restaurants recently enlisted dscout for some critical research before launching its newest concept: Thrive360 Eatery. On the heels of that quick-turnaround study, the new venture’s first Chicago location is already…thriving!

To move the mobile research project from design to final presentation in just three weeks, The Protein Bar (TPB) head of marketing, Julie Saliba, teamed up with dscout research advisor Jess Mons. The aim was to ensure the new menu would be a hit, but what they discovered went far beyond a few menu tweaks. Saliba explained:

We realized we could expand what we viewed as our competitive set. We expected to be taking volume from certain niche, health-oriented restaurants. Our target customer was actually considering us in lieu of a growing, nationwide chain of mainstream fast casual restaurants. That’s a huge opportunity for us.

Of course, the team also received crucial feedback on their primary area of inquiry — the menu, to which the team was able to respond quickly, peppering the final menu with improvements. Here’s how the study progressed:

Finding real users

In just three days, TPB went from screener design to a full recruit of target users nationwide: brand unaware, health-conscious 18- to 34-year-olds seeking flavorful meal options across a range of dietary lifestyles — such as paleo, vegan and gluten-free. Three-quarters of participants — we call them scouts — said they exercise 3+ times a week and primarily choose their meals based on health factors.

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Mission design

To steer communication her strategy and optimize the menu, Saliba needed to know which elements the potential guests found most compelling. Our scouts provided her with written and video responses to questions around three topics: first impressions of the menu; perceived hits, misses, and wishes; and likelihood of visiting.

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Introductions and impressions

The first mission captured the where-and-why of each scout’s regular lunch destinations. Open-ended questions were designed to explore how scouts defined their “ideal” lunch — such as what would be in it, price, speed, and its ability to sate or energize.

Next, scouts printed and examined a full menu, offering in-the-moment first impressions of the menu’s visual features and content. According to Saliba, this phase not only confirmed TPB’s hypothesis of how people would react to the menu, but also expanded their understanding of first-time users:

“Without dscout, we wouldn’t have known exactly what is compelling to talk about to first-time visitors. Based on sales alone, wraps are a bestseller, but it turns out that the variety and freedom of the ‘make’ your own’ section was whathelped lower the barrier to entry.”

Hits, misses & wishes

TPB’s second mission took scouts through a structured exploration of the printed menu. What caught their eye and drew them in? What was confusing or disappointing? What did they wish was different?

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Recording five 30-second selfie videos, each focusing on one hit, miss or wish, scouts detailed what mattered to them as they looked at the menu. Being able to see and hear in-the-moment reactions from real potential guests gave the marketing team clear direction to make its menu design more approachable. They learned what layout and language confused, which text was hard to read, and where imagery was too repetitive (easy on the chicken pics!).

Scout Review of The Protein Bar's New Restaurant’s Menu Images

The Verdict

To dig deeper than just menu analysis for this final research mission, we asked scouts to:

  • tell us how they would describe the restaurant to friends
  • rate how likely they were to visit the restaurant (a 6.1 on a seven point scale!) and why
  • predict which menu items they would order on their first visit.

Scouts also created restaurant taglines and described a quintessential patron. And while the second mission had shown TPB what to change, this third mission affirmed their communication strategy was on track.

dscout’s Jess Mons described how that imaginary profile aligned near perfectly with the demographics and psychographics of the new restaurant’s target patron:

We prompted the scouts to describe the type of person that eats at this new restaurant. Scouts responded with descriptions such as health-conscious, fitness-driven, busy professionals, and quality-focused. These words indicated the communication plan of the menu was hitting the bullseye.

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