How Subway is approaching reopening

Having transparency and value as established brand pillars is helping the QSR address consumers' most pressing concerns.

Subway Canada is leaning on some of its existing brand pillars to reassure customers about the safety in its locations – as well as launching a new value menu to help those with pressing financial concerns.

Cristina Wells, country director at Subway Canada, tells strategy that transparency and reassurance is key when it comes to the QSR’s COVID procedures, practises and communications. She says “guests should feel safe and comfortable coming to Subway,” and that this message will be disseminated in a campaign on TV and digital channels in upcoming weeks, handled by Dentsumcgarrybowen and Veritas.

Many of Subway’s procedures are the kinds of things that will likely become commonplace at most QSRs. Subway is implementing hourly restaurant cleanings of high-touch areas such as door handles and POS systems, separating tables, installing plexiglass shields and equipping staff with masks. That will be on top of measures it has already implemented for take-out customers, such as social distancing markers on the floor. Subway is also further expanding its contactless ordering options with the introduction of curbside pickup, available through the Subway App in select locations across the country in the coming weeks.

“We have seen very significant usage on convenience apps, delivery as well as remote orders,” according to Wells. “Those habits will probably stay in place on touchless channels.”

But there are some factors that are unique to Subway. Wells points out that it is one of the few QSRs that has full customer visibility and control over every order, with people being directly involved in the sandwich making process from start to finish. That also gives consumers full line of site to cleanliness standards like single-use glove and individual sub sandwich wrapping policies – while not new measures, they are ones that have become more relevant to customers.

According to the latest research from IMI, the factors that have the biggest impact on customers feeling safe returning to stores and restaurants are things like regular cleanings of surfaces and masks and gloves for staff.

Beyond safety, Subway is also adding $5 menu value items for three mass appeal items and one product innovation. On the pricing side, “value has always been one of the key strategic pillars” for Subway, Wells says, and will be an even bigger focus now that people’s finances are being affected because of the pandemic and a looming recession.

The new under $5 menu was soft launched in its locations this month, and there is a full media launch beginning Monday. The lineup includes the QSR’s cold cut combo, meatball marinara and veggie delite six-inch sandwiches, as well as a new egg and bacon English muffin. Wells says Subway wanted to ensure the right product mix, and a variety of options including vegetarian.

Despite being able to drive some sales through take-out and contactless channels, the closure of physical stores has inevitably had an impact on Subway’s business. Subway’s global CEO John Chidsey had previously said that the fact that most of its locations were in smaller formats, leaving it with lower rent and labour costs than many of its competitors – but this week, confirmed it had laid off 150 office staff. The company said COVID-19 had forced the company to accelerate a corporate restructuring plan, which had previously resulted in 300 layoffs at its head office in February.