When the pandemic shut down restaurants last March, Beef ‘O’Brady’s off-premise business surged from about 10% of sales to a peak of 80% within a couple of weeks.
“We had to pivot really fast to keep our corporate stores and franchisees going,” said Scott SirLouis, COO of the 131-unit casual-dining chain. “Everybody really came together and got creative, setting up tents in the parking lots with banners directing customers to curbside pickup.”
In the scramble to ramp up to-go orders, Beef ‘O’Brady’s had to tap into its stock of white foam clamshells, eventually upgrading to black plastic clamshells with clear tops. But there was no consistency in the supply, said SirLouis, and even though the makeshift carryout setup was doing the job, “we realized if we were to keep our off-premise momentum, we had to get better at all aspects.”
SirLouis got together with his teams to figure out a more holistic approach and “Beef 's on Demand” was born. It’s a separate brand with its own logo, packaging and scaled-back menu. More sandwiches are on offer, along with other foods that travel well.
“We realized that 74% of everything we sell is fried or comes with fried sides, and the plastic clamshells were ill-suited for these foods,” said SirLouis. So he and his team brought in packaging from many of their competitors, including Applebee’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, Outback and Chili’s. “One day, we had a huge table filled with takeout french fries from all these chains,” he said.
Beef ‘O’Brady’s decided to go with a cardboard clamshell with no inner coating—it retained the heat well and didn’t sweat, keeping the fries crisp, said SirLouis. It’s a stock container from an existing packaging manufacturer that the chain brands with the “Beef's on Demand” logo.
“Since we’re not a large company, we don’t have the volume to work with a supplier to create a custom package,” he added.
Although Beef ‘O’ Brady’s is keeping a smaller supply of the plastic clamshells for items such as wings and entrees, the new cardboard containers are actually less expensive. “It comes to about a $4,000 savings in packaging per location,” said SirLouis.
The chain also purchased plastic portion cups for sauces , since the restaurants are now packing the sauce separately instead of putting it on the items. The chain is currently working with a bag manufacturer to source a plastic or paper bag that can hold the new packaging. The new cardboard clamshells were tearing the old bags in transit, SirLouis said.
Beef's on Demand will continue as both a curbside and third-party delivery program. “We tried self-delivery in the beginning, but eventually backed off,” SirLouis said. “From a cash flow perspective, we need more volume to do self-delivery.”
Almost one year later, off-premise business is holding steady at about 25%, and “our goal is to hang onto that, even when dining rooms fill up again,” SirLouis said. “Consumers want food where they are—not where we are.”