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10 takeaways from RLC

Over four days and almost three dozen general and breakout sessions, attendees of the Restaurant Leadership Conference were treated to experiences and insights that extended far beyond business. But the core issues of boosting sales, profits and traffic were far from shortchanged. Here are some lessons that were served up to industry leaders in attendance. 

1. How much you pay for a lost employee

The cost for replacing an hourly team member is $1,100, and the expense of filling a vacated manager’s post is $14,000, according to Dallas research firm TDn2K.

2. Turnover is back to pre-recession levels

That fact makes those lost-employee numbers (see No. 1) painfully real, said TDn2K Executive Director of Insights & Knowledge Victor Fernandez. Three out of four vacancies come when an employee takes another job, a stat also not seen since 2008.

3. Social media can be a sales indicator

TDn2K also provided several examples of correlations between a restaurant’s customer ratings on Yelp and what kind of same-store sales a chain unit is posting.

4. Segmentation gets finer

With the fast-food market undergoing another split, operators such as Chick-fil-A and Potbelly are putting a finer point on their image—stressing better value and better food, noted Chicago researcher Technomic. Its term for this in-between sector? QSR plus.

5. Summertime blues?

The optimal weather conditions for the industry’s busiest season are cooler than normal, said the National Restaurant Association’s economist Hudson Riehle. But the forecast for this summer calls for higher-than-usual temps along the coasts.

6. Some friction is OK

The fast-casual segment grew 12 percent in sales in 2014, but build-your-own brands like Chipotle and Blaze Pizza grew 22 percent, finds Technomic. It’s thanks, in part, to guests’ desire to interact with whomever is preparing their meal, a direct challenge to “frictionless” service.

7. DIY restaurant food comes home

The NRA’s Riehle also noted that 48 percent of consumers say they would buy food from a restaurant to cook at home. Interest is particularly high (64 percent) among 18 to 34 year olds.

8. Big data goes small

One-to-one marketing, or using tech to focus on a single customer’s preferences and buying habits, as a business practice across the whole consumer market, took wing at RLC (see Page 23). Think of it as aiming at the forest but speaking to every tree.

9. Find success in high-tech re-engagement

Argo Tea has seen a huge uptick in redemption of its offers in shorter time periods since switching from a loyalty card to an app. Why? “It’s tough to motivate behavior when users can’t automatically see the reward,” says Argo CEO Arsen Avakian.

10. Feedback should be simple

One benefit of tech-based loyalty programs for operators is real-time feedback, but completion can be a problem. To get guests to see its survey through to the end, Zoës Kitchen cut it down to three easy questions. Now 60 percent of Zoës’ users give feedback.

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