Captain D’s CEO on revamping menu, customer service

Chain to add more portable and healthful items

One month after taking charge at Captain D’s, new president and chief executive Phil Greifeld said he has identified several operational adjustments that will help return the quick-serve seafood chain to its former days as one of the segment’s sales leaders.

Greifeld told Nation’s Restaurant News that a menu overhaul featuring more portable and healthful items and an increased focus on improving hospitality and speed of service are crucial to growing the 539-unit, Nashville, Tenn.-based chain’s customer base.

He also discussed his reasons for leaving the Huddle House family-dining chain after 14 years to join Captain D’s and what he thinks he can do to make it a better operation.

Huddle House and Captain D’s are very different entities. You were with Huddle House for a long stretch. Why did you decide to take on this new role?

Captain D’s is a leader in the QSR seafood space. It has the highest [average unit volumes] in the space and incredible brand recognition in the marketplace. I took a look at that and recognized the opportunities there. I know I can bring about positive change and help grow the brand, bring it back to its glory days, so to speak.

Now that you’ve been in place for about a month, what have you determined are the biggest challenges in turning the company around?

I don’t really view it as a turnaround. Clearly, there are challenges ahead for the organization, but I think they are not insurmountable. The great news is the brand is in a good position. Overall, it is very profitable, and there are a lot of great franchisees in the system. That said, I do think there are opportunities to improve.

What are some of those opportunities?

Our biggest initiatives will center on how we can improve traffic flow. During the downturn we’ve experienced a decline in traffic beyond [what might have been expected during these] economic times. What we need to do is improve guest satisfaction and improve profits through heightened execution. There is a huge opportunity to improve our market segmentation. We have to make sure we’re taking better care of our guests, increase our speed of service in the drive thru and [the level of] hospitality in the dining room. We also need to increase the number of healthy options available.

Pertaining to the drive-thru, how do you intend to improve performance?

First, we need to increase the number of portable items. Right now we have a limited amount. When I looked at our lineup, I realized we needed to have more things that are hand-held. Currently, our product lineup does not lend itself to be portable. We are lacking in that area relative to other QSRs. By improving our portability coupled with a $4.99 price point on those drive-thru elements, we can take a chunk of customers away from the other QSR players.

You’ve also indicated that hospitality in the dining room area has been somewhat lacking. Is there a plan to correct that?

You know, more than 50 percent of our transactions come through the diner, so we have to heighten the levels of hospitality and service we offer to our guests. Over time, there have been a lot of initiatives at [Captain] D’s where maybe we took our eye off the ball — the rudimentary running of the restaurant, the execution. I think we kind of lost focus on taking care of the guest and that’s what we have to return to. Guest satisfaction is the foundation of everything we do here.

How do you plan to overhaul the menu?

In addition to increasing our portability factor, we also need to increase the number of healthy items but at the same time offer a more robust and spicy flavor profile. We are talking about a fish wrap — it could be cold or hot. We also want to experiment with different protein platforms that would appeal to a wider customer base. We are going to conduct market research to support our test kitchens. Having said that, we will, of course, have to make sure that those things fit within our brand filters. When people think about Captain D’s they think of seafood. But when you look at what fits, clearly there are opportunities for protein extension. But you have to be careful with that. I do think chicken is a logical extension if it is received well in [test].

Hopefully, we will build sales velocity with a protein extension. Really, it comes down to offering unique, craveable items. We’ve gotten a little rusty in our product [development]. We need to bring about some robust changes to that aspect of our business.

What about offering coupons or creating value menus?

What we have to do is have everyday good value for our customers. I think maybe we’ve gone up a little too much in price over the last three years. Our average check is about $6.15. With some product and menu engineering, you’ll start to see a multi-pronged, barbell-like pricing strategy. We’re not going to a $1 menu, but we will have various price points that appeal to a wide consumer base.

Where do you see this brand in five years from now?

I see this brand as successfully operating and more profitable at every restaurant. I expect our [average unit volumes] to be growing day in and day out, going from $850,000 to $1.1 million or $1.2 million. I want to see our stores become more robust, cleaner, sharper, better executed, and reaching out to a different age group. And I see our franchisees embracing this new brand culture and making more money on the bottom line. I am fully confident that with some TLC, strong leadership and management, we will return to the glory days of years past.

Contact Elissa Elan at [email protected] [3].