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Q&A: Roland Dickey Jr. of Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants

Q&A: Roland Dickey Jr. of Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants

Barbecue chain launches catering hotline, boosts protein prices by 10%

Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants Inc. will be launching a new national catering hotline on July 1 to help its franchise owners manage that sizable share of their business.

The 147-unit, Dallas-based chain this week also said it is raising its prices 10 percent on the protein items because of “rising commodity charges and food inflation with all protein menu items.”

“We tried to keep the price increase at bay for as long as possible, but ultimately we didn't want to sacrifice quality,” said Roland Dickey Jr., president of Dickey's Barbecue Restaurants in a statement Monday.

Carlos Reyes, Dickey’s chief financial officer, added, “We are confident the slight increase will not turn customers away, but, in turn, will make the franchisees more successful.”

Dickey’s, which has 139 franchised units and eight corporate-owned restaurants in 33 states and systemwide sales of about $120 million, is rolling out the national hotline call center — 1-866-BARBECUE — to help franchise owners manage their catering orders.

Michelle Sarlls, Dickey’s corporate catering manager, said customers will “get to speak directly with our live catering experts who are waiting to answer questions, customize orders, and be there to professionally recommend service, style and options.”

Dickey’s catering services range from box lunches to full-service buffets. Dickey said the goal is to increase each store’s catering sales by $800 a day.

Nation’s Restaurant News spoke with Dickey about the new catering hotline:

What’s the idea behind the hotline?

Catering is a big part of our business. It’s about 15 percent of our overall business, which somewhere between three to five times more than the typical fast casual. Barbecue and catering kind of go together.

We are offering this as a service to our owner operators. We’re 95 percent franchised. Sometimes during peak hours and evenings and weekends, the catering calls weren’t being taken. We felt we were losing an opportunity. Most customers who want to place a catering order want to place it with the first person that answers the phone. If you take a name and number and call back, you tend to lose the job, we found.

We want to do this as a supplemental service to our operators. A lot them have their own catering hotlines in their stores. This is kind of another level of support, a big net to catch anything that might slip through.

How did you staff the call center?

Our call center here [in Dallas] has super-trained catering administrators. Right now we have four people that work it. We’ll add more as we need to.

How did you decided to launch the hotline?

We made the decision and then got it approved by our National Advertising and Franchise Advisory Council. Our NAFAC approved it, and then we spent a month getting it set up, and test stores up and going, and collateral printed. We started with about 30 test stores on May 1. It will be operational for the entire system on July 1.

What did you learn in creating the hotline that others might benefit from?

We thought it would be a good training mechanism. We want to take the catering order, close and then send it to the store. The store rings it up, and it becomes their sale. No percentage goes back to corporate expect on the basis on sales royalties. Our goal is to get the store to take that lead or job and convert that into a regular catering customer for that unit. We will call the person back after the job to make sure it was executed properly. If there is an issue, we use that as a training opportunity with the store.

What other things are important?

It’s real important that you get the right people to staff it. It’s real important that you’ve communicated with the stores with how much allowance you can have to negotiate on price of jobs. It’s also important to gauge lead times and prices.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected].

Follow him on Twitter: @ronruggless

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