Boston Pizza offers a refresher on how to eat on patios

With more outdoor dining locations than its competition, the restaurant chain fast-tracked a campaign to capitalize on Ontario's sudden reopening.

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Given that it has more locations with outdoor dining than its competition, Boston Pizza knows a thing or two about patios.

So it’s perhaps no surprise that its summer campaign revolves around outdoor patios, especially as pandemic restrictions were lifted in places like Ontario last week, a province where the family-style restaurant and sports bar has a third of its patio locations.

Boston Pizza’s latest campaign is centred around a telephone hotline specifically designed to make the patio re-introduction as smooth as possible. A tongue-in-cheek 1-855-BP-HOW-TO number will walk diners through some basic patio lessons, such as how to practice talking to a real-life server again or how to defend your pint from patio wasps.

“We saw this patio hotline idea as a way to launch in a timely, relevant way… and cut through some of the advertising clutter that we expected last weekend with so many patios re-opening in Ontario,” says Niels van Oyen, marketing director at Boston Pizza. While patios have been an option at times for diners in Ontario over the last 15 months, the window has been short depending on the weather, local pandemic restrictions, available seating and a diner’s own comfort level.

“Patrios reopening a major turning point for most Canadians, after what has been a very trying year and a half,” van Oyen says, and Boston Pizza wants to bring the patio back in people’s lives, both for the restaurant industry as a whole, as well as for its franchisees.

Van Oyen tells strategy that Boston Pizza had initially planned its patio “retraining” campaign for closer to July, but when it was announced that outdoor dining would be returning to Ontario, one of its biggest markets, it didn’t want to miss the boat. So, a quick-turnaround version of the effort focused on social and out-of-home was developed with its creative AOR John St. and media agency UM, and released in time for the weekend restaurant rush.

Van Oyen adds that the campaign is also meant to be a form of entertainment people could “just enjoy,” a light-hearted way to help them figure out “where they’re going to patio” amid a sea of other restaurants announcing their own patio reopenings.

“We are the restaurant with the most number of patios in Canada, so who better than us to launch a hotline to retrain Canadians about how to patio?” he says. While there are a few exceptions for locations in place likes malls and hotels, the vast majority of Boston Pizza locations have outdoor dining, separating it from many other restaurant chains and presenting an opportunity to get a jump on regaining some its lost on-premise business.

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Van Oyen says while the spending is quite low for this specific part of the campaign, as it looked to act fast to coincide with patio reopenings in Ontario, it does plan to ladder it up to a “significant ad spend” that it had initially planned for July – its largest for 2021 – with a more holistic approach that will also bring TV into the mix.

In May, BP president Jordan Holm said in a conference call, that Q1 continued to present challenges brought on by COVID-19 adversely affecting the business of Boston Pizza restaurants across Canada, which it attempted to address it with a “favorite meal deals” promotion for take-out that tried to compete more on price. But now, he said, Boston Pizza is invested in making its patios more accessible and attractive, as well extending them into parking lots or other parts of the surrounding areas, to allow for more guests to enjoy the patio and recoup more of its on-premise business.