During the depth of the COVID-19 lockdowns and dining restrictions in 2020, Bloomin’ Brand Inc.’s leadership made the decision to maintain the company’s payrolls and not furlough or lay off workers.
David Deno, CEO of Tampa, Fla.-based Bloomin’ Brands since March 2019, said that policy helped sales bounce back relatively quickly at its brands, which include Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Bonefish Grill, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar and the newer quick-service, drive-thru Aussie Grill by Outback.
“When this first happened in mid-March, we wanted to do two things,” Deno said in a late-summer interview. “One, we wanted to take care of our employees. And two, we wanted to serve great food in a safe environment — either in the restaurant or in peoples’ homes.”
Deno, who joined Bloomin’ Brands in 2012 from Best Buy and served as the company’s chief financial and administrative officer before becoming CEO, knew how to gauge the impact of such bottom-line decisions.
Before becoming CEO, he had been directly responsible for the company’s business analytics and global strategy, as well as all areas of financial planning and reporting. His scope of responsibility also included global supply chain, development and productivity.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic being declared, the company had to make quick and hard decisions about its staffing.
“We knew that if we could retain our people and pay them, even if they weren’t working, and not let them go, it would improve employee engagement [and] that would enable us to bring people back right away when the restaurants reopened,” Deno said. “We wouldn’t have to recruit people. And we wouldn’t have to train people. That is exactly what happened.”
Deno, prior to Best Buy, had deep roots in the hospitality industry, including more than 15 years in operations and financial positions at PepsiCo, Yum Brands and Burger King.
During the pandemic, Bloomin’ Brands unveiled its latest initiative, Tender Shack, a virtual brand for delivery on DoorDash that is serviced out of select Carrabba’s units. The test began in September in the home market of Tampa and was expanded to five more states in October.
The move followed the launch in May of its first stand-alone, drive-thru Aussie Grill by Outback.
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