Jack in the Box focuses on speed

The quick-service burger chain wants to get faster.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Jack in the Box wants to get faster.

The San Diego-based burger chain, fresh off of a decision to forgo a sale, is shifting its attention to menu simplification in a bid to improve the speed of service.

“We’ve been our own worst enemy when it comes to speed of service,” CEO Lenny Comma said during the company’s second quarter earnings call on Thursday. “The breadth of our ever-changing menu has added complexity and prep times in our kitchen.”

Jack in the Box is testing a reduction in “redundant ingredients,” such as cheeses and mayonnaise-based sauces, in about 180 locations—what it calls Phase 1 of the program. It plans to integrate those changes systemwide in July.

It also plans to test Phase 2, which will include new back-of-house procedures.

Comma said the company saw “no detrimental impact on sales” in its 180-store test, while it also improved speed.

Jack in the Box’s goal is to improve average service times by one minute by the end of 2021. “The overall objectives of these efforts are to make training and execution easier, provide faster and more consistent service for our guests and deliver more sales and profits for all our operators,” Comma said.

He noted that the menu changes involve shrinking the number of ingredients in the kitchens. For instance, he said, “There was a time when we had five-plus mayo-related sauces. It’s very complex for the crew to deal with five mayo-based sauces.”

He also said the company had “seven-plus cheeses and a ridiculous number of bread carriers,” many of which are similar.

When the company eliminates similar ingredients and changes a product, “The consumer isn’t telling us that they don’t like the product. In fact, they like it just as much.”

“We’re really careful not to kill any equity by bringing the product quality down,” Comma said.

He said that the company’s research and development department would create a good product, and operators were required to implement it. He said Jack in the Box now has a team that also includes marketing, supply chain and operators, “So we’re developing the product right up front where we’re really pushing hard to make operations our first priority.”

The company is also focusing more on its drive-thrus.

Jack in the Box has opted to reduce the scope of a remodels of some of its older restaurants to only include changes in the drive-thru.

The company had tabbed 600 of its oldest restaurants for remodels and spruced up about 75 of them. Yet the company decided for the remaining locations that it should focus only on the drive-thru portion of the remodel.

That’s because most of the returns of the full remodels are coming through that window, which generates the bulk of the chain’s sales. That way, the company and its operators can get most of the returns of a full remodel but at a much lower cost.

“We learned that the majority of returns from a full remodel is coming through the drive-thru, aligning with where 70% of our business is generated,” Comma said. The “Drive-Thru of the Future” features digital menu boards, LED lighting and canopies.

Comma seemed to suggest that remodeling business for dine-in sales is not efficient, given that the vast majority of customers take their food with them.

“Not only do 70% of our guests come to the drive-thru, but half of the remaining 30% that go into the dining room are takeout customers,” Comma said. “When we focus on the drive-thru, it allows us to double down on what consumers primarily see us, as a convenient offering that has a twist to its menu.”

“It just seems like the most appropriate spend for us to make and also ask our franchisees to invest in.”

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