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Operators need to get on board with changes in the C-suite

The restaurant executive table, and talks around it, must evolve to keep up, says RB Managing Editor Sara Rush Wirth.
Sara Rush Wirth

Things are changing in the restaurant C-suite. And that means a lot of conversations are shifting—and operators need to get on board or risk falling not just behind, but also off the radar. 

First, the actual makeup of the executive table is slowly starting to look different. Male, pale and stale CEOs aren’t a given anymore. One obvious (and exciting) change is that there are even more women in executive roles: Kathie Niven of Biscuitville and Julie Felss Masino of Taco Bell were recently named presidents of their brands, to name a few. And younger execs—including those with backgrounds outside the industry—are rising into leadership roles. 

But no matter who is at the table, executives are being forced to grapple with a consumer who isn’t the same as restaurantgoers of years past. 

Modern diners are using restaurants differently, and through multiple channels. In-restaurant traffic is down, while off-premise sales are up, showing that consumers are voting with their dollars for more food at home. Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, for example, would lose 8% of its customer base if it didn’t participate in off-premise, CEO Laura Rea Dickey said at the Food on Demand Conference in March. That’s not a percentage of guests that she—or any other operator—is willing to lose. 

While it’s a major pain point, delivery is also one of the biggest areas of opportunity for many brands. Right now, the talk around delivery is all about cost and M&A of these third-party companies. Some brands see the 15%-30% fees charged by third-party services as a marketing expense. Others are trying to escape “tablet hell” with a solution that integrates off-premise orders into POS systems. Others, still, are just focused on making sure off-premise is actually driving incremental business, as promised by third-party vendors, without cannibalizing in-restaurant sales.

Meanwhile, more brands are attempting to court investors, like those listed in our Power 20 report, soon to be online. At the same time, especially with franchised brands, execs have to convince operators to get behind new initiatives and upgrades. The bottom line is that, with all of this change, executives still have to deliver.

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