Some of the biggest restaurant concepts are hotbeds for innovation, testing out ideas that will be a boon for operations of any size.
Chick-fil-A family time
A Suwanee, Ga., Chick-fil-A franchisee has put a new spin on the chain’s community-focused philosophy. To foster family interaction during dinner at the restaurant, the restaurant challenges guests to silence their smartphones and place the devices in a “cell phone coop” that looks like a takeout box. If the party can make it through the meal without opening the coop, everyone in the group is rewarded with a free ice cream cone.
Google Hands Free
Restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area—including some McDonald’s and Papa John’s units there—are testing a new Google service that allows customers to pay for a meal by saying aloud, “I’ll pay with Google.” Called Hands Free, the system works off an app; users don’t have to remove the phone from their pocket or purse. Tech at the point of sale detects a selfie on the customer’s phone and shows it on the POS system’s screen. The employee taking the order verifies the identity and approves the transaction.
A receipt then is beamed to the guest’s phone.
Preorder time guarantee
Service time guarantees, such as Buffalo Wild Wings’ fast-break lunch, have been popping up of late. Some chains are taking to-the-minute quotes a step further, adding estimates to the app experience even before orders are placed. Outback Steakhouse quotes wait times at each location before patrons put their name on the list, and Pizza Hut now offers “promise time” by projecting the wait for delivery and carryout before orders are submitted, based on how busy they are in the restaurant.
New resident love
To court loyal business of new local residents, Chick-fil-A tucks a “Welcome to the neighborhood” message in with the retail coupons that are sent to people who register a move and change their address with the post office. Included is a coupon for a free sandwich or order of chicken nuggets, valid only at that nearby location.
Chipotle rain check
When Chipotle shut all 2,000 of its U.S. restaurants earlier this year to review its safety plan, it made sure to console patrons who might have been annoyed to find their lunchtime unit locked up. Consumers were told they could get a free burrito by texting “raincheck” to a particular number before the restaurants reopened. The giveaway also was a pass-along deal; fans could give the number and code to friends who might have been lapsed regulars or lost customers.
Recognizing that many meetings happen outside of the office, Starbucks created a free plug-in, making it easy for Microsoft Outlook users to set up and invite co-workers to meetings at a nearby store.
A busy Houston location with a number of deaf staffers added simple tools to improve the experience both for those employees and guests. For instance, when coffee is finished brewing, the timer flashes and vibrates instead of beeps. And staff take orders on digital dry-erase boards.
As a new perk of its much-lauded loyalty program, Starbucks lets members earn points for more than coffee. Via a partnership with Lyft, guests get stars if they use the ride service to commute. And coming soon: a Starbucks debit-style card that awards points for purchases made anywhere Visa is accepted.
Without pushing any candidate, CEO Howard Schultz sent a letter urging all Starbucks employees to vote, and offered access to online registration. “By helping to increase voter registration and participation, we believe more people will have an opportunity to make their voices count,” he wrote.
E-learning for LTOs
Newk’s Eatery used to send out a booklet to teach individual restaurants about its quarterly LTOs, but it’s switched to e-learning. Corporate sends out a webinar a week before the rollout, and it has an interactive component for managers to type in questions. Instead of wondering who was reading the snail mail, Newk’s now can track who is watching.
Pop of red
As part of its makeover earlier this year, Donatos updated its staff uniforms to appeal to millennials, said CEO Tom Krouse. In addition to a choice of a T-shirts and hats, associates can add a personal “pop of red” to their gear, such as a necklace, bandanna or shoes. “It’s stuff they want to wear, instead of corporate-looking,” Krouse said.
Dickey’s Barbecue Pit is trying to appeal to groups of all sizes by offering portions that fall between an individual meal and the big servings typically offered as catering options. It now sells package meals in three sizes: Picnic Pack, Family Pack and XL Family Pack.