After a painful year of industry contraction during the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurateurs are looking to expand.
Restaurant brands in all segments are driving sales and restaurant numbers with aggressive expansion spurts and operational improvements that affect every part of the restaurant – from the kitchen to the dining room to the drive-thru.
Nation’s Restaurant News spoke to executives from Focus Brands, PF Chang’s, Dog Haus, Dave’s Hot Chicken and Rush Bowls, all of whom will be presenting at the inaugural CREATE: The Future of Foodservice event next month, out of five. key strategies to promote post-pandemic restaurant growth.
Get their perspectives below and learn more directly from these leaders during CREATE: The Future of Foodservice in Denver, October 4-6. Register now to attend this one-of-a-kind event.
Ghost kitchens and virtual brands
Ghost kitchens and virtual brands had already gained traction in the industry before the pandemic forced operators to seek new ways to generate offsite revenue, and many believe these delivery-only concepts will continue to drive the market. growth.
Dog Haus, based in Pasadena, Calif., For example, has enjoyed an unexpected bonus over the past year and a half thanks to the resounding success of Absolute Brands, a collection of six virtual concepts it created in-house. using existing Dog Haus menu items and designed to capture third party delivery sales. Although they were originally designed to operate from commercial kitchens, the concepts have proven to be successful, such as what André Vener, left, founding partner of Dog Haus, called the concepts of ‘host kitchen’. »Operating from existing Dog Haus restaurants.
“I think he has legs,” Vener said of the potential for the future of virtual brands. “We think some of these brands will be brick and mortar at some point.”
Innovative catering formats
Damola Adamolekun, left, CEO of PF Chang’s, also sees great potential in the future of off-premises catering. The Scottsdale, Ariz.-Based casual dining chain plans to add up to 15 to 25 PF Chang’s To Go locations next year, in addition to the 15 it plans to have by the end of 2021 , did he declare.
“The smaller format will work in smaller spaces and allow us to reach more customers,” he said.
While the company’s flagship “bistro” restaurant format measures approximately 6,500 square feet to 7,000 square feet, the To Go concept, focused on take-out and delivery, works in less than a third of that time. space, with a footprint of between 1,500 square feet and 2,000 square feet. square feet.
The company sees the smallest concept as a component of its execution strategy at an equally high level, regardless of how its customers choose to order, Adamolekun said.
“The exterior is important, but # 1 drives sales in our restaurants,” he said.
Accelerated drive-thru improvements
Foodservice companies that had well-established drive-thru operations before the pandemic tended to do well amid foodservice restrictions within 2020, and many see this mode of order processing as a growth opportunity. for the future.
Focus Brands, parent company of McAlister’s Deli, Carvel, Jamba, Schlotzsky’s, Moe’s Southwest Grill, Cinnabon and Auntie Anne’s, is stepping up its drive-thru capabilities, said Joe Guith, left, president of restaurant brands at the based company. in Atlanta. .
“McAlister’s has been on this journey for a few years,” he said, adding that work is underway on other concepts, including Moe’s, to improve their drive-thru capabilities.
Co-location strategies, in which different brands share the same real estate but keep their operations separate, are another potential growth opportunity the company is pursuing, he said.
Auntie Anne’s and Jamba, for example, recently opened a co-branded drive-thru outlet, although Guith noted that co-branding only has potential for certain brand locations and associations.
Menus for a changing consumer
Andrew Pudalov, left, founder and CEO of Boulder, Colorado-based Rush Bowls, said he sees the need for a concept that delivers healthy, clean meals in a small package that caters to the active lifestyles of young consumers.
The concept for his business, which focuses on acai and other fruit and vegetable bowls, as well as smoothies, has grown rapidly and is aimed at nationwide expansion into non-traditional places such as food courts. and airports, as well as in residential areas.
“We want to be this healthy place within the community,” said Pudalov.
The company’s efficient business model, which is characterized by a small footprint and minimal workforce, is well-suited for the pandemic and continues to present potential for future growth, he said.
In addition, product expansion and menu innovation will continue to drive growth as the company continues to test ingredients such as new spices and introduce new products such as Rush Bites, which are peanut butter balls with honey, oats and chocolate chips, rolled in coconut. .
Pudalov also sees opportunities for growth in the franchise for the Rush Bowl concept, having proven itself over the past 17 years.
“We are growing very quickly, both from existing partners and new franchisees,” he said, citing the company’s seasoned store operator staff as one of the main drivers of its success in as a franchisor.
“We really understand the challenges, what works and why,” Pudalov said.
Likewise, Dave’s Hot Chicken also sees franchising as a successful business model for future growth, said Bill Phelps, left, CEO of the 20-unit chain. The company has sold the rights to approximately 400 units which are expected to open over the next five years.
Phelps said the company was surprised at its success in selling franchises during the pandemic, relying primarily on video calls to close the deals, and he attributes this at least in part to the fact that the sandwich concept at the spicy chicken is in high demand.
“It kind of hits all cylinders,” he said. “We don’t even have to advertise – word of mouth is so powerful that we get calls from operators of all kinds of other concepts looking for someone new to grow up with. “