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Influencer Marketing Success Stories in the Restaurant Industry

Last Update: Dec 5, 2023 @ 9:15 am

“The best marketing doesn’t feel like marketing.” 

– Tom Fishburne, Founder and CEO of Marketoonist


Business owners, restaurant managers, and marketers use influencer marketing in today’s fast-paced digital world. In the restaurant business, brand-influencer collaborations have enhanced brand exposure, customer engagement, and revenue. We’ll investigate a popular restaurant brand’s influencer marketing success story, case studies, lessons learned, and inspirational creative partnerships in this article.

Case Study_ P.F. Chang's
P.F. Chang’s Store From the Web

Case Study: P.F. Chang’s

P.F. Chang’s is a popular Asian-themed casual dining franchise with locations in the US and abroad. Their influencer marketing campaigns have significantly impacted their brand awareness and bottom line. 

5 Key Strategies of P.F. Chang’s in Developing Success Stories

Here are five ways P.F. Chang’s has implemented strategies in their campaigns:

1. Diverse influencer partnerships: P.F. Chang’s works with culinary bloggers and lifestyle influencers to reach different demographics.

2. Authentic storytelling: Influencers share their genuine experiences at P.F. Chang’s, showcasing the restaurant’s unique offerings, ambiance, and overall dining experience.

3. Engaging content: P.F. Chang’s encourages influencers to create aesthetically appealing, high-quality content that engages their audience and also showcases the brand’s assets.

4. Seasonal campaigns: The restaurant chain runs seasonal campaigns, partnering with influencers to promote limited-time menu items or special offers, generating buzz and excitement among their audience.

5. Cross-platform promotion: P.F. Chang’s uses Instagram, Facebook, as well as YouTube to maximize campaign reach and engagement.

8 Case Studies of Successful Influencer Marketing Campaigns

Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino
Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino Campaign From the Web

1. Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino

The Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino was a limited-time beverage that took the world by storm in April 2017. This vibrant, colorful drink was a blend of sweet and sour flavors, featuring a mango-flavored creme base with sour blue drizzle and a topping of whipped cream and pink and blue sugar dust. Also, the unique, Instagram-worthy appearance of the Unicorn Frappuccino quickly made it a social media sensation.

The marketing campaign for the Unicorn Frappuccino was centered around influencer marketing, capitalizing on the visually striking nature of the drink. Starbucks also collaborated with various influencers, including food and lifestyle bloggers, to create and share content featuring the Unicorn Frappuccino. Customers felt a sense of urgency to visit Starbucks to enjoy the beverage before it was gone because it was only available for a few days. This led to a significant increase in sales for Starbucks during the promotion.

Several reasons explain the Unicorn Frappuccino’s success:

  • Visual appeal: The drink’s eye-catching design was great for social media sharing, generating attention and excitement.
  • Influencer marketing: By partnering with relevant influencers to promote the beverage, Starbucks was able to tap into their established audiences and amplify the reach of their campaign.
  • Limited-time offering: The short availability window of the Unicorn Frappuccino created a sense of urgency, prompting customers to visit Starbucks stores to try the drink before it was gone.
  • Virality: The combination of the drink’s unique appearance, influencer promotion, and limited-time nature resulted in a viral sensation that attracted widespread media coverage and consumer interest.

The Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino campaign shows how a visually appealing product, a well-executed influencer marketing plan, as well as an urgency can lead to brand success.

McDonald's Travis Scott Meal
McDonald’s Travis Scott Meal Campaign From the Web

2. McDonald’s Travis Scott Meal

The McDonald’s Travis Scott Meal was a limited-time collaboration between the fast-food giant and popular rapper Travis Scott in September 2020. Moreover, the collaboration included a special meal consisting of a Quarter Pounder with Cheese, bacon, lettuce, a medium order of fries with BBQ sauce, and a medium Sprite.

The marketing campaign for the Travis Scott Meal was centered around the star power of Travis Scott, who is known for his massive following, influence, and unique sense of style. McDonald’s partnered with Travis Scott to promote the meal through social media and other digital channels, leveraging the rapper’s wide reach to generate buzz around the collaboration.

McDonald’s also released exclusive Travis Scott x McDonald’s merchandise, including clothing, accessories, and even a chicken nugget-shaped pillow. The Travis Scott Meal campaign was successful due to several factors:

  • Celebrity collaboration: Partnering with Travis Scott, a widely recognized and influential artist, helped McDonald’s tap into the rapper’s established fan base and create a unique experience that resonated with customers.
  • Social media promotion: Travis Scott himself and other influencers promoted the meal on their social media platforms, generating widespread interest and conversation around the collaboration.
  • Exclusive merchandise: The release of limited-edition Travis Scott x McDonald’s merchandise further fueled the excitement and demand for the collaboration.
  • Nostalgia: The campaign also played on nostalgia by reviving the concept of celebrity meal collaborations, which McDonald’s had done in the past with icons like Michael Jordan.
  • Cultural relevance: Travis Scott’s influence in the music and fashion industries made the collaboration feel current and relevant, appealing to a younger demographic that McDonald’s was targeting.

The McDonald’s Travis Scott Meal campaign demonstrates the power of strategic celebrity partnerships and also the importance of creating culturally relevant experiences to drive sales.

Taco Bell's Hotel & Resort Takeover
Taco Bell’s Hotel & Resort Takeover Campaign From the Web

3. Taco Bell’s Hotel & Resort Takeover

In August 2019, Taco Bell made waves by taking over a Palm Springs, California hotel and transforming it into “The Bell: A Taco Bell Hotel & Resort” for a limited time. This unique, immersive experience allowed Taco Bell fans to fully embrace the brand and its quirky, fun-loving nature. The takeover featured Taco Bell-themed rooms, a poolside bar serving Taco Bell-inspired cocktails, an on-site salon offering Taco Bell-themed nail art and hairstyles, and, of course, a variety of exclusive Taco Bell menu items.

Food, travel, and lifestyle influencers were invited to stay at the hotel and share their experiences on Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter. Furthermore, the Taco Bell Hotel & Resort takeover was a massive success, with reservations selling out within just two minutes of becoming available. The campaign’s success can be attributed to several factors:

  • Unique concept: The idea of a Taco Bell-themed hotel was novel and attention-grabbing, sparking curiosity and interest among consumers.
  • Influencer marketing: By partnering with influencers to document and share their experiences at the hotel, Taco Bell was able to tap into the influencers’ established audiences and amplify the reach of their campaign.
  • Social media buzz: The visually appealing and shareable nature of the hotel takeover made it perfect for social media, helping to generate widespread interest and as well as conversation around the event.
  • Brand loyalty: Taco Bell’s enthusiastic fans, who are recognized for their commitment to the brand, quickly embraced the opportunity to immerse themselves in the Taco Bell experience, making the hotel takeover a success.
  • Exclusivity: The limited-time nature of the hotel takeover and the difficulty in securing a reservation added a sense of exclusivity and urgency to the event, driving demand and excitement.
Wendy's #NuggsForCarter Campaign
Wendy’s #NuggsForCarter Campaign From the Web

4. Wendy’s #NuggsForCarter Campaign

In April 2017, Wendy’s launched the #NuggsForCarter campaign, which quickly became a viral sensation on social media. The campaign started when a teenager named Carter Wilkerson tweeted Wendy’s, asking how many retweets he would need to receive a year’s supply of free chicken nuggets. Wendy’s responded with a challenge: “18 million.” Carter then shared the challenge with the hashtag #NuggsForCarter, and the internet took notice.

As the hashtag gained traction, celebrities, influencers, and even other brands jumped on board to support Carter’s quest for free nuggets. Wendy’s also fully embraced the campaign, frequently engaging with Carter and other users on Twitter, encouraging the momentum of the viral tweet.

Although Carter didn’t reach the 18 million retweets, he surpassed the record for most retweeted tweet with 3.6 million. Moreover, recognizing the incredible virality of the campaign, Wendy’s decided to award Carter a year’s supply of chicken nuggets and donated $100,000 to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption in his name.

The #NuggsForCarter campaign was a massive success for Wendy’s, and its success can be attributed to several factors:

  • Authenticity: The campaign began organically, showcasing the genuine interaction between a customer and the brand, which resonated with social media users.
  • Virality: The simplicity of the challenge and the humorous nature of the interaction made it easily shareable and also encouraged widespread participation.
  • Brand engagement: Wendy’s embraced the campaign, frequently interacting with Carter and other Twitter users, demonstrating the brand’s personality and commitment to engaging with customers.
  • Influencer involvement: As the campaign gained traction, celebrities and influencers joined in, further amplifying the reach and visibility of the #NuggsForCarter hashtag.
  • Corporate responsibility: Wendy’s donation to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption showed the brand’s commitment to giving back and aligned with their core values.
KFC's Influencer Colonel Sanders
KFC’s Influencer Colonel Sanders Campaign From the Web

5. KFC’s Influencer Colonel Sanders

In 2015, KFC launched a unique influencer marketing campaign featuring a rotating cast of celebrities portraying the brand’s iconic mascot, Colonel Sanders. The Colonel was first played by comedian and Saturday Night Live alum Darrell Hammond, but the company quickly cast Norm Macdonald, Rob Lowe, and Reba McEntire.

The campaign was designed to generate buzz and drive sales for KFC’s signature fried chicken, with the rotating cast of Colonel Sanders adding a fun, tongue-in-cheek element to the brand’s marketing. The influencers portraying the Colonel also created exclusive content, including television commercials and social media posts, that added to the overall campaign’s effectiveness.

The KFC Influencer Colonel Sanders campaign was successful due to several factors:

  • Nostalgia: By bringing back the beloved Colonel Sanders character and adding a modern twist, KFC tapped into consumers’ nostalgia for the brand’s history and legacy.
  • Humor: The tongue-in-cheek advertising and the celebrities playing the Colonel made it fun and engaging for consumers.
  • Influencer marketing: The use of influencers to portray the Colonel and create exclusive content helped to drive interest and also engagement from their respective fan bases.
  • Multi-channel promotion: The campaign was promoted across a variety of channels, including television commercials, social media, and in-store signage, creating a consistent message and widespread reach.
  • Consistent branding: Although the celebrity portrayals of Colonel Sanders changed frequently, KFC’s branding remained consistent throughout the campaign, helping to reinforce the brand’s messaging and values.

The KFC Influencer Colonel Sanders campaign serves as an excellent example of how a brand can leverage a beloved mascot, combine it with a humorous and engaging influencer marketing strategy, and as well as create a successful marketing campaign that resonates with consumers.

Subway's World Sandwich Day Campaign
Subway’s World Sandwich Day Campaign From the Web

6. Subway’s World Sandwich Day Campaign

In November 2019, Subway launched its annual World Sandwich Day campaign, which aimed to raise awareness and funds for hunger relief organizations. The campaign featured a collaboration with famous footballer, Lionel Messi, who also starred in an ad campaign promoting the event.

Subway contributed the equivalent of a meal to hunger relief groups for each sandwich sold on World Sandwich Day. The brand also encouraged customers to share their participation on social media with the hashtag #WorldSandwichDay.

Subway donated approximately 10 million lunches to hunger relief groups worldwide. The campaign’s success can be attributed to several factors:

  • Partnership with a celebrity influencer: The collaboration with Lionel Messi helped to increase awareness and interest in the campaign among the footballer’s global fan base.
  • Clear and compelling cause: The campaign’s focus on hunger relief was a compelling cause that resonated with consumers, creating a sense of urgency to participate.
  • Incentives: The buy-one-get-one-free deal and donation for each sandwich sold gave consumers a clear incentive to participate in the campaign.
  • Social media engagement: The use of the hashtag #WorldSandwichDay encouraged social media users to share their participation in the campaign, further amplifying its reach and impact.
  • Brand loyalty: Subway’s loyal fan base, who appreciate the brand’s commitment to fresh ingredients and healthy options, contributed to the campaign’s success.

The Subway World Sandwich Day campaign is an excellent example of how a brand can leverage a celebrity influencer, tie into a compelling cause, and as well as use incentives and social media to create a successful marketing campaign that resonates with consumers.

Domino's Pizza Turnaround Campaign
Domino’s Pizza Turnaround Campaign From the Web

7. Domino’s Pizza Turnaround Campaign

Domino’s Pizza started a 2009 marketing effort to address customer complaints regarding pizza quality. The campaign, also known as the Turnaround, featured a series of ads showcasing Domino’s efforts to improve its pizza recipe and highlight the brand’s commitment to quality.

The campaign began with a video featuring Domino’s executives reading negative customer comments, followed by a message from the company’s CEO, Patrick Doyle, admitting the brand’s shortcomings and announcing the changes they had made to improve their product. Domino’s also released a series of commercials showcasing taste tests and the brand’s new pizza recipe.

The Turnaround campaign was a massive success, with Domino’s experiencing a significant increase in sales and brand loyalty. The success of the campaign can be attributed to several factors:

  • Honesty and transparency: By acknowledging the negative customer feedback and admitting their shortcomings, Domino’s demonstrated authenticity and honesty, which resonated with consumers.
  • Brand messaging: The campaign showcased Domino’s commitment to quality and its willingness to listen to and address customer feedback.
  • Multi-channel promotion: The Turnaround campaign was promoted across various channels, including television commercials, social media, and as well as in-store signage, creating a consistent message and widespread reach.
  • Creative advertising: The taste test commercials, featuring real customers and employees, added an element of authenticity and entertainment to the campaign.
  • Continued commitment: After the campaign’s success, Domino’s focused on quality and innovation, cementing the brand’s reputation for excellence.

The Domino’s Turnaround campaign serves as an excellent example of how a brand can use honesty, transparency, and innovation to address negative feedback and improve brand loyalty. By also acknowledging and addressing customer concerns, and showcasing a commitment to quality, Domino’s was able to successfully turn around its reputation and regain consumer trust.

Panera Bread's #FoodInterrupted Campaign
Panera Bread’s #FoodInterrupted Campaign From the Web

8. Panera Bread’s #FoodInterrupted Campaign

Panera Bread’s #FoodInterrupted campaign in 2018 raised awareness of food insecurity and the brand’s commitment to tackling it. The campaign also featured documentary-style videos showing food insecure people and Panera’s efforts to address the issue.

The campaign also featured a partnership with actress and activist Zoey Deutch, who helped to promote the campaign on social media and participate in the brand’s food donation efforts. In addition to the videos, Panera also encouraged customers to donate to the brand’s “Meal for a Meal” program, where the brand donates a meal to a person in need for every meal purchased through their app.

The #FoodInterrupted campaign was successful due to several factors:

  • Compelling content: The documentary-style videos were emotional and impactful, showcasing the real people and stories affected by food insecurity and also the brand’s efforts to address the problem.
  • Partnership with an influencer: The collaboration with Zoey Deutch helped to increase awareness and engagement with the campaign among her fan base.
  • Clear and compelling cause: The campaign’s focus on food insecurity was a compelling cause that resonated with consumers, creating a sense of urgency to participate.
  • Multi-channel promotion: The #FoodInterrupted campaign was promoted across various channels, including television commercials, social media, and also in-store signage, creating a consistent message and widespread reach.
  • Ongoing commitment: The brand’s ongoing commitment to addressing food insecurity, through the “Meal for a Meal” program and other initiatives, further solidified the brand’s reputation for excellence and social responsibility.

The Panera Bread #FoodInterrupted campaign serves as an excellent example of how a brand can use its platform to address social issues and create positive change. Panera Bread was also able to raise awareness about food insecurity and contribute meaningful solutions.

6 Lessons Learned and Key Takeaways on Influencer Marketing
Influencer Marketing Visual From the Web

6 Lessons Learned and Key Takeaways on Influencer Marketing

Here are several key takeaways for successful influencer marketing campaigns:

1. Authenticity and transparency are crucial: The success of the Domino’s Turnaround campaign and the Panera Bread #FoodInterrupted campaign both highlight the importance of authenticity and transparency. Brands that acknowledge and address negative feedback and prioritize honesty and transparency in their messaging can build strong connections with consumers.

2. Compelling content is key: The success of campaigns such as the Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino and the Taco Bell hotel takeover demonstrate the power of creative and engaging content. Brands that prioritize creating compelling and entertaining content, and leveraging influencers to create buzz around their campaigns, can generate excitement and drive engagement.

3. Focus on social responsibility and charitable causes: Campaigns such as Subway’s World Sandwich Day and Panera Bread’s #FoodInterrupted highlights the power of brands that prioritize social responsibility and give back to charitable causes. By focusing on causes that demonstrate a commitment to giving back, brands can build trust.

4. Multi-channel promotion is key: The success of campaigns such as the KFC Influencer Colonel Sanders campaign and the Wendy’s #NuggsForCarter campaign highlights the importance of multi-channel promotion. Brands that use various channels to promote their campaigns can reach a wider audience.

5. Incentives can drive participation: The success of campaigns such as the McDonald’s Travis Scott Meal and the Subway World Sandwich Day campaign demonstrate the power of incentives to drive participation. By offering promotions, brands can encourage consumers to engage and generate buzz around their campaigns.

6. Emotional resonance can drive engagement: The success of campaigns such as the Subway World Sandwich Day campaign and the Panera Bread #FoodInterrupted campaigns demonstrate the power of emotional resonance in driving engagement. Campaigns that evoke strong emotions in their audience can help brands build connections with their audience.


To conclude, restaurant owners, managers, and marketers have found influencer marketing to be effective. As demonstrated by the success stories of popular restaurant brands like P.F. Chang’s and innovative campaigns like Starbucks’ Unicorn Frappuccino, the power of influencer marketing lies in its ability to authentically connect with audiences, drive engagement, and also boost brand visibility.

By learning from these success stories and implementing key takeaways, such as prioritizing authenticity, diversifying influencer partnerships, and encouraging high-quality content creation, you can harness the full potential of influencer marketing for your restaurant business. Creative partnerships and inventive campaigns can help your brand stand out and grow.

READ ALSO: 5 Steps To Tell A Compelling Brand Story

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