Capping off a night out with his wife last winter, Mark Snyder ducked into a local bakery craving a little something sweet. A fresh-baked cupcake hit all the right buttons– sweet but not overly so, perfectly sized, creatively flavored and easy on both the stomach and the wallet after a full meal. It also sparked an idea that Snyder, a seven-year Quaker Steak & Lube franchisee with two units in Ohio, one in West Virginia and one in Colorado, parlayed into a sweet success story for the chain.
Snyder approached the same local baker who’d made his cupcake that night, who agreed to supply BMG’s Canton, Ohio, location with fresh-baked cupcakes daily. “Servers presented them on trays to every table and we did contests for the staff with prizes for the server who sold the most. They became really popular, especially with kids. Overall, it ended up being a pretty big hit,” Snyder says. “We did it for about four months and were up to an average of 185 to 200 cupcakes selling at $1.99 each week before I decided to take it further.”
Snyder took the idea—and a big tray of cupcakes—to a joint meeting of Quaker Steak & Lube’s menu and marketing committees. “He was really trying to sell us on the idea and share his success,” says Kate Malaniak, the chain’s director of food & beverage.
Malaniak went in search of a manufacturer to ensure consistency of product and supply. Starting with four flavors, the program rolled out system-wide last summer and sales now average 2,000 cupcakes per week across 31 stores (a few locations aren’t participating in the national program due to distribution issues). “At $1.99, that adds up and it’s simple to execute,” she says. “We also found that sales increases are mostly incremental. Thanks to Mark’s idea, people who otherwise wouldn’t have ordered dessert are now doing so and the extra attention that servers are giving to desserts is giving the whole category a lift.”
As with most things at the Lube, the cupcake program is tied into the company’s motor sports theme. Dubbed “LICNZ 2 CRAV,” it now has servers presenting the cupcake selection to each table on license plate-shaped trays. The cupcakes themselves have themed names, too: PB&J Traffic Jam, They Say It’s Your Birthday, Red Corvelvette and Chocolate Peanut Butter Collision kicked things off. Since then, new flavors and seasonal specialties have rotated in and out.
“I’ve been with chains where introducing any change takes an act of Congress,” Snyder comments. “That’s one of the things I like about Quaker Steak & Lube. They’re open to ideas and innovations, they let you try things out and they listen to you. If it’s something good for everyone, they do it. This was one idea that ended up being good for everyone.”