CREATOR Awards winners explain how to stay relevant

For restaurateurs, the new mindset is “how do we learn quickly, test quickly, evolve quickly? But the emphasis on innovation must be matched by a renewed focus on people.

This was stated by the first CREATOR award winners, who spoke on Wednesday at a panel at CREATE: The Future of Foodservice.

The winners were selected by the editorial team of Nation’s Restaurant News and Restaurant Hospitality for their innovation in certain categories.

Representing the winner of the CREATOR of the year Brinker International, which opened new doors with the launch of the virtual brand It’s Just Wings last year, Wade Allen, senior vice president and head of innovation at Brinker, a explained how the casual dining chain started the delivery. -concept of wings only at night in 1000 locations. The move helped Brinker keep the lights on and avoid time off during the pandemic and became a mark of $ 170 million.

The key to the strategy was to really understand who the audience was: college-aged men who love games and sports and appreciate the value of free fries, Allen said.

And the launch allowed Brinker to launch more delivery-only brands to make better use of their Chili’s and Maggiano’s kitchens, but Allen said the company was very strategic in making sure it didn’t go beyond that. the deployment capacity of its restaurants.

“We don’t have an untapped cap” for virtual brands, he said. “It’s not [like] you can put 50 marks in an asset. You need to protect the primary asset.

But the diversity of thought that leads to such innovation can only be accomplished with a diversity of people, Allen said.

James Fripp, Director of Equity and Inclusion at Yum Brands Inc., winner of the CREATOR Award for Leadership, agreed that “connecting to different communities in different ways” is a form of innovation.

“What we need to think about in innovation is how to take care of people while we’re doing all of this,” Fripp said. “Because what we are seeing is that people are pulling out. “

Fripp explained how Yum has worked to strengthen diversity in restaurant leadership and ownership across the global system and to create safe places for dialogue on the topic of inclusion. The multi-faceted approach included town halls, mentoring and engaging team members to commit to equity and inclusion.

The company has also set up ‘reverse mentors’, for example, pairing a white male leader with a person of color to build relationships in a more personal way, what the company calls ART: Authentic Relationships that build Trust. .

Fripp said the company also strives to convey the importance of embedding diversity in the business, not only because consumer demographics are changing rapidly, but also because the best and brightest graduates of color are invited by top schools to examine leadership potential. employers to see if people of color are represented.

“If not, you might want to really dig deep to find out if this is the right company for you,” he said.

Portillo’s COO Derrick Pratt – which won a CREATOR Award for redesigning its delivery model and single-handedly achieving drive-thru sales at an average of $ 2.2 million per year – recently announced a initial public offering, revealing how far the iconic hot dog brand has made through the pandemic, recreating itself as an omnichannel operator.

Pratt attributed the brand’s irresistible menu, incredible volumes to delivery, catering, strong drive-thru performance and overall energy. Portillo’s was able to weather the pandemic without layoffs and maintain its beloved heritage while becoming a brand that meets the needs of today’s radically changed consumer.

Portillo’s was forced “to learn quickly, to test quickly, to scale quickly,” he said, in part because of the way the brand has maintained an intimate relationship with customers and remains focused on l ‘learning.

Robert Earl, co-founder of Virtual Dining Concepts, won the CREATOR award for marketing. The company has built a portfolio of uniquely celebrity-related delivery brands and social media influences that bring instant brand awareness.

“Public relations are better than advertising. This has always been our philosophy, ”said Earl, who also launched the celebrity-friendly Planet Hollywood and Hard Rock brands.

Virtual Dining Concepts is best known for its launch of the MrBeast Burger brand, a partnership with a YouTuber with millions of followers that is able to ignite an audience.

And it’s not just about celebrity associations, but intellectual property as well, Earl said. Virtual Dining Concepts, for example, offers NASCAR brands through which consumers can order food at specific regional racetracks while watching the races at home.

This week, for example, more than 100,000 people ordered The Big One, an 8-ounce meatball with pork and cheese in the middle that is deep-fried, covered in barbecue sauce and served over spaghetti, a famous option at Talladega Speedway, he said. .

Earl said the key to innovation is understanding the changing needs of consumers and potential restaurant workers who are saying “no” at work in a hot kitchen, standing for long hours, or working every night. “No one knows yet where this is all going to end up,” he said.

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected]

Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout

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