As the restaurant industry charges further afield in its quest for new opportunities, the potential pratfalls are increasing proportionally. Problems still unknown to many restaurateurs were raised repeatedly during the Restaurant Leadership Conference, the business’s largest gathering of top-level chain executives. Fortunately for attendees, the solutions were often provided in the next breath.
Here’s a sampling from the 2,100-person gathering’s second day.
1. Problem: Integrating a tablet ordering system
Servers learn how to input customers’ orders into a remote touchscreen so the tickets are zapped accurately to the kitchen. But what happens when the waiter or waitress is cut from the process and the patron is expected to punch in the choices themselves via tablet or kiosk?
Unless the correct buttons, swipes or inputs are obvious, trouble can arise, noted Mary Ventura, senior director of technology for Delaware North Travel Hospitality, operator of about 350 airport restaurant locations. Jargon will almost certainly confuse, as will shorthand terms that are peculiar to the operation.
The concessionaire was confronted with those challenges when it switched to self-ordering tablets at many of its airport facilities. “Our POS was not set up well, so staff were typing in manual [corrections] for almost every order, and modifiers were not firing to the [Kitchen Display System] appropriately,” Ventura said. That caused the back-of-house staff to lose confidence, so her team started over, programming a simpler version of the menu into the POS.
2. Problem: A conviction restaurant work is a dead end
The public is way off in assuming restaurant work begins and ends with a minimum-wage job leading nowhere. Executives of DavCo, a large Wendy’s franchisee, knew from their own success that opportunity abounds. With as little as two years of experience, a young person could end up in a management job with a decent salary.
The dead-end perception is unfounded, but the fallout is all too real. Prospective recruits were repelled, and politicians felt an obligation to regulate.
To push back, DavCo decided to tell what it saw as the real story. It drafted a brochure, “A Career in the Restaurant Industry,” that described the various jobs an applicant could land in a Wendy’s. Nine often-overlooked positives are listed, as well as five first-person accounts from employees who had climbed the career ladder.
Copies were provided free of cost to high schools and guidance counselors.
“If everyone did something like this, we could make a difference,” said DavCo CEO David Norman.
3. Problem: Losing traffic to more convenient locations
The Blazing Onion burger chain has several units in malls that also sport a food court. Instead of losing business to that strip of options, the upstart brand is putting kiosks in the mall’s corridors—where consumers can be intercepted before they wander into the food courts. The food is brought out to them, said founder David Jones, who notes a sale is snagged without the customer having to visit.
4. Problem: Nuisance lawsuits filed by bounty hunters
Any business with considerable traffic is going to be a scene of slips, trips and other mishaps, said DavCo President and COO Rick Borchers. And that means a significant risk of being sued.
Don’t be a pushover, he stressed. Let all the lawyers in the area know you’ll fight each legal action instead of settling. Be sure they realize “you’d rather pay your lawyers than pay a customer’s lawyers,” he suggested.
5. Problem: Long ticket time for some add-ons
The First Watch breakfast-and-lunch chain wanted to build check averages by adding appetizers and desserts, but the ticket times were prohibitive, said CFO Paul Hineman. Instead, he explained, the operation developed several shareables. Rather than cooking three or four apps, the kitchen only had to produce one dish.
6. Problem: Keeping bonused managers motivated during a downturn
DavCo had based its managers’ bonus programs on meeting quarterly goals—a foundation that didn’t prove effective when a bad start to the period meant the employees were not going to hit their target, no matter how hard they worked. The motivation dissipated in a flash, explained Norman.
The franchisee addressed that problem by switching to a monthly incentive schedule. Even if a month was terrible, the slate is wiped clean in a matter of days, and the new goal is there.
7. Problem: Countering anti-big-chain bias
Today’s big challenge for chains like Taco Bell or KFC is countering a resistance to mass-market brands, said Greg Creed, CEO of parent company Yum Brands. “How do you make it feel really small to the customer?” he proffered during a keynote address.
Part of the solution, he continued, is understanding culture and social dynamics. Taco Bell, for instance, “is a cult brand,” a designation usually reserved for quirky upstarts and niche players. As a result, he said, customers feel the nation’s third-largest quick-service chain is a relevant brand, not a dinosaur.