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Carl Howard, CEO of Fazoli's, on the brand's resilience through the pandemic.

Fazoli’s sales have increased during the pandemic; CEO Carl Howard credits his team’s focus on value and safety

Sales and traffic are both up for the fast-casual Italian restaurant brand

Fazoli’s was one of the shining stars to come out of the coronavirus pandemic. The fast-casual chain is using it as a time to focus on value and customer satisfaction, increasing same-store sales and traffic year-over-year. CEO Carl Howard explains how he was able to bring in those sales by protecting guests and employees first and foremost through safety and sanitation. Here’s his story:

“With all factors related to this pandemic, you have to adapt to the new normal – there are new developments and changes that arise each day, week or even each month. We are seeing rules and mandates change on a daily basis, most recently with more restrictions on dine-in seating and even mandatory masks. This is going to be with us for some time, so we need to keep evolving the brand with the current tides and keep our positive momentum going.   

I felt the urgency to protect our guests, the brand, our employees and franchisees. From a safety perspective, we went all-in on personal protective equipment (PPE) and a comprehensive cleaning and sanitization plan. We received both local and national recognition for our plans. Then, as mandates lifted and dining rooms started to reopen, I felt the same urgency to go on the offense and be aggressive in providing our guests with extreme value... and it paid off. As a result of our focus on value and service, sales and traffic are up double-digits for the last 75 days. 

carol-howard.pngSafety and sanitization trump all other actions. I wanted our sanitization measures to be clearly visible to assure our guests that we are taking every measure to ensure their health and safety and that of our team members.  As a result, the feedback has been very positive, and word has spread around about Fazoli's. We implemented these steps before they became local and state mandates; therefore the steps that we have taken have been shared and adopted by many other brands.   

I believe we’re going to remain in a very turbulent time for our industry. These challenges we’re facing now, and in the months ahead, will be difficult. The pressures put on bars, casual-themed dining and the small operators will continue to force brands with loose balance sheets to shutter or shrink.

The future looks murky, but the brands that can provide solid value and deliver on convenience by providing an experience focused on serving products when, where and how a guest wants it, will thrive. We were already living in a stay-at-home economy and the pandemic just pushed us much faster into a full-blown stay-at-home economy. The consumer is using technology more often and the brands that provide a solid, dependable tech experience will survive and thrive. As odd as this sounds, the technology experience is just as important as old school hospitality.   

We have been extremely fortunate at Fazoli's. The credit goes to the whole team and not just the senior team, but all of our managers and front-line workers who are adapting to the new normal.  They are wearing masks and gloves at all times, even in uncomfortable and often hot conditions and they are performing mandatory cleaning every 20 minutes and at top of every hour. Our restaurant teams are doing such a great job adjusting to all of the changes. The senior team put forth a tireless effort in the first three to four weeks of the COVID crisis, developing a game plan to preserve liquidity for all of our stakeholders.

We went on the offense in late April, with extreme value, added guest service in the drive-thru with car-side breadstick delivery while guests waited in line and implemented operational changes to make the guest experience faster and more convenient. That is when the brand took off big time. We set all-time sales and traffic records for a day, a week and a period in June, then surpassed all of these records. On July 31, we had our busiest Friday and largest sales and traffic day ever in the history of the brand.

The fact that we are averaging double-digit comps in both traffic and sales for the last 10 weeks is a credit to the entire team and the work we put in at the beginning of this crisis. In addition, we kicked off a fantastic incentive for current and new franchisees, zero franchise fees and zero royalty fees in year one. We opened four locations last quarter and we have interest from 100 groups about growing the Fazoli's brand. I want our new locations to build liquidity, and while it might cost us some on the bottom line, we will grow the brand with happy franchisees.”

This is part of our Stories from the Front Lines series.

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