A Mixed Message for Finalists in Fazoli’s

The shop that wins Fazoli’s Italian Restaurants’ $15-20 million account faces a tough task defining a niche for the chain, which straddles the fast-food and fast-casual categories, restaurant analysts said.

“If they position themselves as fast food, they’re at the top end,” said Bob Sandelman of Bob Sandelman & Associates in Villa Park, Calif. “If they place themselves against casuals like Panera [Bread Co.], they might feel they don’t have that much distinction, because they’re more like them than they are different.”

Fazoli’s last week chose five agencies, including incumbent Meridian Communications in Lexington, Ky., to pitch in early February for the creative portion of its $15-20 million account. Other contenders are WestWayne and Interpublic Group’s Fitzgerald + Co., both in Atlanta, and Wyse and Brokaw, both in Cleveland.

The 400-unit chain’s sales have been flat at about $200 million for the last three years, per Hoover’s Online. Meridian’s promotion-heavy work (as many as 60 ads per week) is tagged, “Real Italian. Real fast.”

“When you go to an Italian casual chain, you’re there 45 minutes to an hour,” said Greg Lippert, marketing director of the Lexington-based division of the Seed Restaurant Group. “We’re a frequency business—our goal is for a family of four to spend no more than $20 here.”

The point of difference may be lost on some diners, said Ron Paul of Technomics in Chicago. “Their problem is that Subway [and other fast-food chains] have squeezed the lunch crowd, and at dinner they’re up against Olive Garden and other upscale casuals—and take-home frozen [pizza] pies from supermarkets,” Paul said.