Like many Bob Evans Restaurants executives, Roger Williams has been with the 579-unit family-dining chain for a long time. His first job there in 1967 was as a restaurant crew member. He moved through several positions en route to the presidency, including regional vice president of operations. Subsequently, he switched to marketing, moving up to senior group vice president of marketing and technical services. Following an appointment to the company’s food products division in 1995, he returned to the restaurant division in 2006, when the board of directors elected him president. Columbus, Ohio-based Bob Evans Farms Inc. also owns and operates 118 casual Mimi’s Cafe restaurants and a retail food division.
How do you cope with those challenges facing the family-dining segment?
We try to separate our challenges into those we can control and those we can’t. We can’t control energy costs, minimum wage or health insurance costs. We can control the condition of our stores, training, menu and pricing and, to some extent, service. We adjusted our prices when the Ohio minimum wage went up, or it would have cost us $10 million.
What changes are you making to your service style?
This year we’ve worked on teaching people to make eye contact with customers. We have quit turning people into robots, saying, “My name is Roger, and I’ll be your server.” We’re letting the servers’ personalities come out. Internally, we’re calling it “B.E.S.T.” for “Bob Evans Special Touch.”
Has the increase in breakfast sales by quick-service chains cut into your business?
When 70 percent of breakfast is done in QSR and McDonald’s is doing double-digit same-store sales, we will have to fight and defend that business. We have two totally different breakfast occasions: weekday and weekend. On weekdays, it’s smaller checks and faster service. We need to rehone some of our weekday initiatives.
How is your dinner daypart doing?
Dinner is our opportunity, including carryout dinner. We’ve had good success this past year with three knife-and-fork sandwiches, our Bob-B-Que and some new stir-fries.
What are some other new menu trends at Bob Evans?
We’ve changed our light sausage from fat-free pork, which never sold well, to turkey, which has had a good response. Salads are growing. Every restaurant I walk into, I intend to eat light and taste something different. Our research and development team is on it.
FAST FACTS EDUCATION: University of Rio Grande, Rio Grande, Ohio, bachelor’s degree in mathematics with a minor in chemistryEXPERIENCE: Bob Evans Farms, entire careerAGE: 57
EDUCATION: University of Rio Grande, Rio Grande, Ohio, bachelor’s degree in mathematics with a minor in chemistryEXPERIENCE: Bob Evans Farms, entire careerAGE: 57
What are some new initiatives you’re testing?
We have a coffee test in place, starting with our base coffees. We have a small test for curbside. Our carryout business is pretty good and is an important initiative.
To what do you credit Bob Evans Restaurants’ same-store sales increase of 2.3 percent in the last quarter?
We are really thrilled to have a same-store sales increase for the quarter, since we were up against some very strong comparisons last September and October. We credit it to our team focus on execution. We have a focus on productivity, especially on the weekends, when we do so much business. Our folks did a nice job of managing labor.
Where will you focus future expansion?
We are mostly in the Midwest and Southeast now. When you get farther from home, they get harder to run. We have lots of opportunities to penetrate our existing markets.
Do you worry about competition from casual dining?
I’ve never made a dime chasing anybody. We are proud of being Bob Evans. We are not a casual-theme restaurant.