Providing omni-channel hospitality is key for restaurants in the post-COVID era, but the challenge is thinking through the guest experience in all the ways the guest wants to interact with your brand.
So said Christine Barone, CEO of True Food Kitchen, in the CREATE session on “Building Brands that Resonate” on Tuesday.
Restaurants like the 39-unit True Food Kitchen have dine-in down, she said. Now the opportunity is maintaining that same level of hospitality through all the other ways that guests can now experience the brand, from online ordering and delivery, to using QR codes at the table.
“What we need to do as operators is provide an experience for our guests that can span across all of those expectations,” said Barone. “You can now come into our restaurants and actually order at your table with your phone, or you can decide completely to ignore that and order with the menu, order through a server.
“So I think right now it’s about meeting the guests where they are,” she added. “And even the same guest on different occasions might want something pretty different.”
True Food, for example, has been able to maintain off-premises sales of about 28%, she said. “Dine-in has come back, but off-premises remained really strong” as guests added new occasions through the week, she said.
The chain has grown native delivery and is looking at expanding with third-party delivery partners as an acquisition channel. Again, True Food is focused on ensuring guests have a great experience when they order for delivery, but it’s much harder to fix things that go wrong outside the restaurant’s four walls.
“It’s important to understand that there are a lot of people who sit between you and the guest,” she said, including third-party delivery, reservation management systems, or even Google or Yelp as search engines.
“So it’s about thinking through how you ensure, as your brand, and as guests fall in love with you, that you sit front and center,” she said. “I really think understanding how to optimize, how to connect, with the guest that most wants to find you on each of those platforms is super important.”
Fundamentally, technology should provide opportunities for operators to create deeper interactions at the table — if that’s what guests want, said Barone.
In fact, the successful adoption of technology requires a more talented team — servers who can read their table and also apply those skills to the guest’s desire for speed or convenience using tools like QR codes.
That has complicated training, she added. Before COVID, True Food was mostly training workers who had some industry experience. Now new workers often have never served or cooked before. In addition to providing basic job skills, those workers must be cross trained as dine-in and to-go servers, she said.
True Foods Kitchen has a “True U.” training system, but Barone believes restaurants are an apprentice business.
“A lot of that teaching is real time, observing someone at a table or cooking alongside someone,” she said. “It’s much harder for tech to do a better job [at training] than our team is doing,” she said.
As the chain grows — four new units are planned for 2022 and four to six in 2023 — Barone said True Food will also be rethinking real estate placement and potential changes to unit footprints.
Drive-in units may be an option, or smaller locations that might offer delivery and takeout only, perhaps with no seats at all, she said.
Wherever the format, Barone said she is confident the brand will keep it’s healthful-food mission at the forefront and her team will handle the changes ahead.
“We’ve all been through so much in the last two years, we’re strong. We know we can conquer anything at this point, and I see this strength across my team,” she said.
Watch the session with Christine Barone on-demand here.
Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected]
Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout