For some restaurant companies, the pivot to digital platforms during the COVID-19 pandemic has been isolated to individual aspects of the operation.
Other companies, though, have decided to take a holistic approach to digital innovation, integrating it into the entire operation and even rethinking the very nature of the restaurants themselves based on the potential of digital tools.
FOCUS Brands is very much an example of the latter. The parent of McAlister’s Deli, Moe’s Southwest Grill, Schlotzsky’s, Cinnabon, Carvel, Jamba and Auntie Anne’s has undergone a digital transformation in the past year that has affected everything from its ordering process to its relationship with customers and even its store footprints.
Joe Guith is category president of restaurant brands for FOCUS, overseeing McAlister’s, Moe’s and Schlotzsky’s. Previously the president at McAlister’s, Guith helped that brand in 2020 expand its omnichannel strategy to include eight unique service channels.
“We went from an on-premises concept in an off-premises world to quickly adapting,” he said, noting that McAlister’s did over 50 percent of its business on-site prior to the pandemic. “And we have come through COVID very well.”
Now Guith is helping his portfolio to migrate to a “uniform digital platform” that is upending its store development process — for the better.
“Unquestionably we’re evolving the core formats of the brands,” he said.
Guith sat down with Sam Oches, editor-in-chief of Nation’s Restaurant News, at CREATE: The Future of Foodservice in Denver, where he shared insights with an audience of restaurant professionals about FOCUS’s digital strategy. In this mini-episode of Take-Away with Sam Oches, the two talk about digital innovation at McAlister’s Deli, Moe’s Southwest Grill and Schlotzsky’s, how digital tools are affecting the dine-in experience and where these innovations are directing the company into the future.