Milestones wants its takeout experience to feel like on-premise dining

Who: Milestones, with Juliet Creative.

What: “Milestones at Home,” a dedicated digital hub supporting the casual dining chain’s new online ordering system. It’s designed to replicate the in-restaurant experience at home, using a seven-step process that includes advice for plating, lighting and tipping, as well as the ability to play background music and eavesdrop on “conversations” taking place at the next table.

When & Where: The hub is live now, accessible through the homepage. The chain is promoting it via its social channels, messaging on takeout delivery bags, and through email communications to people in its 450,000-person database.

Why: While many restaurants have pivoted to takeout during the pandemic and accompanying lockdowns, Milestones’ vice-president of marketing Jimmy duDomaine said the in-home dining experience has become somewhat homogenous.

“For full-service restaurants, the takeout experience can feel quite similar,” said duDomaine. “So much of what a dine-out experience is for a full-service restaurant is taken away by simply picking up the food, bringing it home and eating it at your kitchen table.”

The rise in off-premise dining: While the majority of Milestones’ 42 (mostly suburban) restaurants across Canada are open, albeit with strict limitations on capacity, duDomaine said that at least one-quarter of its business is currently takeout.

While Milestones has made the in-restaurant experience a fundamental aspect of its marketing communications, duDomaine said that its delivery business was growing even prior to the pandemic, and will likely be a key component for the foreseeable future. “It wasn’t something we were focusing on very much before the pandemic, but obviously it has brought to the forefront the importance of that side of things,” he said.

Milestones is currently offering a slightly condensed version of its dinner menu for takeout and delivery, with the number of entrees pared back from 40 to about 30, said duDomaine. Although it is currently running a brunch program in the west, that has been put on hold in eastern Canada during the lockdown period.

How: Accessible through the Milestones home page, the digital hub is designed to be used while eating the chain’s takeout food. It includes a playlist called “Your table’s waiting” that features the music played in Milestones restaurants, courtesy of the chain’s music provider, Stingray Music.

There is also an “Overheard at Milestones” section that recreates what duDomaine described as “quirky, funny and sometimes cringe-worthy” conversations taking place at the next table over, including one in which two women recount their dating experiences with an urban forager and a married man. “We thought it could be a really unique way to make [customers] feel they’re connected to that restaurant experience, even when you’re not there,” said duDomaine.

What does post-pandemic marketing look like?: Happy Hour was one of Milestones’ major marketing plays late last year (including a high-profile partnership with Ryan Reynolds). That marketing launched in the west in October, but the company postponed plans to roll it out nationally. “We’ve kind of got that in the bank now, and our hope is to launch that campaign nationally, including in Ontario, come patio season,” said duDomaine.

And we quote: “We feel this program bridges the gap between ordering takeout and ordering in. Of course they are different experiences, but there are things we can take from the in-restaurant experience and bring to the home. That’s extremely important right now as we look to continue growing that connection with our guests.” — Jimmy duDomaine, vice-president of marketing, Milestones

Chris Powell