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O.C. BUSINESS PLUS | HEARD ON THE BEAT / RESTAURANTS

Hot-Dogging It on the Net

February 16, 2000|GREG HERNANDEZ | Greg Hernandez covers the restaurant industry for The Times. He can be reached at (714) 966-5989 and at greg.hernandez@latimes.com

Wienerschnitzel is using the Internet to win over a new generation of fans.

The Newport Beach chain, which started as a single hot dog stand in 1961, has grown to a 330-unit operation in 14 states. But its executives fear that younger people aren't as familiar with Wienerschnitzel as some of its more high-profile rivals, like McDonald's and Burger King.

"Traditionally, we have good awareness with regular loyal customers who have been with us for years," said Tom Amberger, director of marketing. "But our demographics skew a little older than the other fast foods so we are trying to get more exposure among the 18- to 20-year-olds."

So the chain is doing regular promotions on the Internet, including an online contest that ended last week. The winner received a free trip to Las Vegas.

The next cyber promotion begins in March and will be connected to the NCAA basketball tournament, rewarding those who pick the eventual winner. Details of the contest are being finalized but the grand prize will be a trip for two to the 2001 NCAA Final Four.

Wienerschnitzel got its feet wet online last fall with a promotion that drew more than 10,000 participants. It involved a 24-week game in which weekly clues were given to the whereabouts of Wienerschnitzel's hot dog character, "The Delicious One."

The winner, a woman from Massachusetts, received $5,000 for her online detective work. During that promotion, the chain's new Web site received 358,000 hits.

Amberger said using the Web for promotion is the best way to reach young adults.

"This is the [age] group that is using the Internet the most often these days," he said. "For them it's kind of becoming a way of life."

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