Saturday, July 23, 2011

Customer Loyalty, or "Lunatic Behavior?"

FOX News has an article about the lengths to which fast-food fanatics will go to score their favorite meals.

Adam Moore once drove 500 miles just to eat a burrito at a Chipotle he'd never been to. So far he has visited all 71 of their restaurants in Colorado.

Alan Klein is working on a smartphone app to help fellow enthusiasts track down the transient McRib sandwich.

John Ruck, an 82-year-old retiree in St. Petersburg, Fla., has road-tripped to 48 Chick-fil-A openings - not for the coupons but for the camaraderie. He went to his first in January 2006, while grieving his wife's recent death, and found them therapeutic.

He said he doesn't mind sleeping in parking lots because he brings a comfy chair. The only time he suffers is during the karaoke. "I've never been subjected to such torture for 52 meals," he said with a laugh.

Call it fanaticism or simply dedication, but these are the type of ultra-enthusiastic fans that every restaurant craves. Restaurant groupies have always been around, but they're more valuable at a time when the economy is forcing consumers to choose carefully when they eat out, and a few online posts can inform the opinions of thousands. While there are no known statistics on these fanatics or even agreement on who qualifies as one, restaurant chains realize that influencing a few hyper-excited fans with free food and T-shirts can sometimes be more effective — and much cheaper — than a big advertising campaign.

"You really can't buy publicity like that," said Chris Arnold, spokesman for Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., referring affectionately to "lunatic customers" who do things like dress up as burritos to score free meals at the Colorado-based chain. He adds that the company tries to cultivate "loyalty and, in extreme cases, even evangelism."

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