Potbelly Sandwich Shops has a comical solution for parents who are stressed out after spending endless hours at home with their kids: child-free parking spots where they can eat in peace.
Potbelly is testing the “alone time” parking spots outside Potbelly locations in suburbs near its Chicago headquarters. Parents can order pickup through the app or site, park in one of the designated spots and then call the restaurant to say they’re ready for curbside pickup. A Potbelly staffer will walk the food out to the car. The chain does point out that any children should be left at home “with a trusted adult.”
The idea comes from the chain’s internal creative team. “These tantrum- and algebra-free spots will let parents enjoy some privacy when there’s little left at home,” brand creative director Hassan S. Ali said in a statement.
The marketing approach, which comes days before Mother’s Day and weeks before Father’s Day, acknowledges with a wink the time parents are spending at home with their kids, as COVID-19 has shuttered schools and offices.
“Of course I love my family but my wildest fantasy right now is eating a sandwich in peace and quiet,” Potbelly Chief Marketing Officer Brandon Rhoten said in a statement, as he works from the house he shares with his wife and three kids.
Potbelly joked that if its experiment works it may add another spot designated for teens tired of watching their parents’ awkward TikTok attempts.
“Seriously, there should be an age limit on some apps,” said Lucy Rhoten, the CMO's 12-year-old daughter.
Potbelly, like many other U.S. restaurant operators, was doing well at the beginning of 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic. The company said in March that it had been on track for its first increase in quarterly same-store sales since the fourth quarter of 2016, with same-store sales up 2.5 percent through the first 10 weeks of the year. Then sales dropped dramatically as visits to its stores plummeted.
In late April, Potbelly said it had returned a $10 million loan it received under the Payroll Protection Program after it and other publicly traded companies such as Shake Shack (which also returned its loan) were called out for getting the loans meant to help small businesses. Potbelly has furloughed employees, closed some shops and made “significant” cuts to salaries.
Along with the “alone time” spots, Potbelly's marketing during coronavirus includes sticking with its humorous voice on social media.