Bold initiatives tend to grab the headlines, but subtler moves can have a more profound impact on the restaurant business two steps down the road. Here are five of those seemingly incremental efforts that turned our heads this week, because they may cause yours to explode in time.
The next step in third-party delivery
One of the rubs in using services like Postmates or DoorDash is how those third parties interact with the restaurants whose food they’re delivering. Often, a guy in sweaty bike clothes stands in line with everyone else to place the order he’ll then pedal to the customers’ home or office, an insulated bag slung across his chest. It’s not exactly a model of efficiency.
Chipotle, an early adapter of the services, revealed this week it’s streamlining the process. Orders placed through Postmates, the third party handling the highest volume of Chipotle delivery orders, will be automatically relayed from the service’s app to the catering-and-delivery production line of the nearest restaurant.
“This allows Postmates to send orders directly to our back-of-house make line instead of standing in line to order,” explained Mark Crumpacker, Chipotle’s chief creative and development officer.
The ordering systems of the two parties are already speaking to one another in San Francisco and Atlanta, and the interface is in the process of being adopted systemwide, Crumpacker said. He noted that Chipotle plans to pursue a similar setup with the other delivery services it uses.
Cheesecake Factory’s millennial training program
Cheesecake co-founder and CEO David Overton once vowed that devices would never come between guests and the concept; service is too essential to the Cheesecake experience, he said.
Now the chain is testing delivery with a third party at one store, and it booted up a new order-ahead-and-pay app today called CakePay.
But the polished-casual chain isn’t forsaking service. President David Gordon revealed this week that a new server training program has been adopted systemwide to focus on the needs and desires of today’s customers. He mentioned millennials in particular.
The new curriculum, Gordon says, pays 30 percent more attention to service—reading the guest and tailoring the attention and interaction to the preferences of that particular customer. It’s a marked change from the previous training protocol, where the emphasis was on food knowledge, he added.
The chain isn’t skimping on familiarizing new servers with the concept’s voluminous menu and long list of ingredients, but technology has enabled the training to cover that as well as pure service, Gordon indicated.
Panera’s pre-emptive food safety move
How can a restaurant chain promise to promote customers’ health and then poison them with germ-laden food? That’s a question Panera Bread executives apparently asked themselves as they watched Chipotle contend with its food safety crises.
The upshot, President Drew Madsen explained this week, was a decision to spend $2 million more this year on food safety measures, including the addition of a food safety guru to analyze where the chain is vulnerable. That person has already been hired, Madsen said, though he did not reveal who it is.
In particular, Madsen noted, greater effort and funding will be devoted to preventing the transfer of germs from the chain’s dough-making functions to its produce-prepping processes.
“We’ve always had a strong end-to-end risk-based food safety program,” he said. “And our food safety track record has been as strong as any company out there. But, it can always be stronger.”
Panera also de-diversifies
Panera CEO Ron Shaich had spun heads during a previous conference call with analysts by announcing that the company had purchased a controlling interest in five-unit Tatte Bakery & Café. In a call this week, he addressed another Panera diversification, the often-forgotten Paradise Bakery chain, which it bought about 11 years ago from the Chart House steakhouse operation. This time, the message was that Panera plans to stick more to its knitting.
“Paradise, as a small brand in just a few markets, is limited in its ability to take advantage of Panera’s e-commerce and loyalty capabilities, as well as Panera’s national advertising,” said Shaich. So a “substantial number” of the company-operated units will be converted to Panera stores, and the leases on some mature units will be allowed to lapse.
Paradise Bakeries located in food courts will continue to operate under that name, Shaich said.
Domino’s foreign deliveries
If something has a microprocessor chip, chances are you can use it to order a Domino’s pizza—provided you’re in the United States. Outside of the chain’s domestic market, the options are more limited.
Domino’s signaled this week that it intends to change the situation by exporting its tech expertise. The brand is plugging international stores into a proprietary online ordering system called GOLO, which is currently available in 20 of the delivery giant’s overseas markets.
It has also shifted 60 percent of stores abroad to a standard, proprietary POS system. The mere mention of putting a whole franchise chain on one POS system, even just in the U.S., tends to give executives the flop sweats.