Dickey’s Barbecue looks to the future with a smaller, faster prototype

dickeys bbq d light

Unisex bathrooms. Fast lanes for online orders. Subway tiles. No more fried foods.

This is not your father’s barbecue joint.

With barbecue burning up the fast-casual segment, Dickey’s Barbecue Pit—the category leader with $426 million in sales in 2014 (up 29 percent from the previous year)—is not marinating in its success. This week, the 74-year-old chain, rolled out its fourth-generation store design, in Dallas. And the new store hits all the current fast-casual hot buttons as Dickey’s aims to stay in front of the competition.

“We took five years’ worth of notes on the things we wanted to update and improve upon,” says CEO Roland Dickey, who spent months testing a full-scale prototype inside a warehouse before its real-world debut. The result, he says, is a more efficient, focused and simplistic store—“a leaner, meaner profit machine for our owner-operators.”

The changes extend from the front counter to the kitchen and include the decor, menu and overall vibe.

The new footprint is smaller than traditional Dickey’s units, at 1,500 square feet—following in the footsteps of restaurant giants, such as Chipotle and Starbucks, that are rolling out downsized designs in urban markets.

The same number of seats remain (50), but a full 500 square feet of that floor space is dedicated to the open kitchen, which now positions the barbecue pit in full display behind the line. “The whole design revolves around the pit,” says Dickey, a response to guests asking whether the chain smoked its own meats in-house. “We wanted to make sure everybody sees it.”

To make room in the kitchen for the indoor pit, Dickey’s streamlined the menu, requiring fewer pieces of equipment to execute a more-focused offering of meats and sides. Gone are some slower-moving items (including ham and hot links) as well as fried foods. “Somebody would have to leave the line to go get the fried foods,” says Dickey. Now everything on the menu—including sides—is prepared in the pit. “I can’t tell you how much that streamlines our operation,” he says.

Also speeding service is the introduction of a separate lane for pick-up orders with a second POS terminal. “We’re already noticing an uptick in online orders,” running at about 5.5 percent in that store in early estimates, compared to about 3 percent in Dickey’s other units, the CEO says.

Throughput was a key goal of the redesign, part of an effort to deliver on Dickey’s “two-minutes, order to pay” promise. Within less than a week of opening, the new store already is seeing a difference, delivering on its fast-service goal 95 percent of the time versus 75 percent in its traditional stores.

Other enhancements include tablet technology for managing the kitchen and training, as well as beacons in the restaurant to alert managers when loyal customers come into the store. (An app will follow sometime next year.)

“There’s a lot of intrinsic challenges in barbecue, and there’s a lot of opportunity. And there are some things unique to scaling barbecue up to a system the size of ours,” says Dickey. “What we’ve done is make sure we’re really in tune with what the challenges are so we can overcome those challenges, and we’re in tune with what the opportunities are, so we can capitalize on all of those that exist. And then [we’re in tune with] what the possibilities are for the future—things that are not there yet, but that could be there.”

Members help make our journalism possible. Become a Restaurant Business member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.


Exclusive Content


At Papa Johns, delivery shifts from its own apps to aggregators

The Bottom Line: The pizza delivery chain’s business with companies like Uber Eats and DoorDash is thriving while its own delivery is slowing. But this isn’t the beginning of the end of self-delivery, CEO Rob Lynch says.


How the shift to counter service has changed Steak n Shake's profitability

The Bottom Line: Sardar Biglari, chairman of the chain’s owner Biglari Holdings, details how the addition of kiosks and counter service has transformed restaurants.


Grand Geneva Resort & Spa's 'Ouisconsin' croissants reflect the state's French legacy

Behind the Menu: Hyper-local Wisconsin ingredients and a three-day baking process turn out pastries that are in high demand by hotel guests.


More from our partners