Prioritizing the guest experience in a post-pandemic world | Global Franchise
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Friday 7th October, 2022

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Prioritizing the guest experience in a post-pandemic world


Prioritizing the guest experience in a post-pandemic world

John Dikos describes the measures Killer Burger is taking to improve customer service and ensure his brand succeeds in these rapidly changing times

We can all agree that we’re living through a very dynamic time. The velocity of change and adaptation required to remain relevant in the restaurant industry has increased dramatically, and a bifurcation has emerged. There are those brands that have maintained or improved their value proposition through the changes and those that haven’t. As a result, some brands have struggled or gone out of business, while others have done well with sales, but have been challenged to maintain enough staff to benefit from increasing customer demand. The best of the best figured out how to maintain sales and staffing levels while managing through the changes required of them in this new age of shifting expectations.

For Killer Burger, I’m focusing on these key areas:

Ordering: When brands initially build their menu in their POS platform, an order flow is created. But as things change and evolve, it’s important to revisit the process that a guest uses to order food.

Do they select size first? Entree type? Build-your-own versus standard builds with modifications? What makes it better for the team to make or produce the order? What makes it better for the guests? Menu boards, handheld menus and digital menus are all downstream from the POS menu build. The best brands are relentless at removing friction in transactions from all sources, internal processes, and guest needs.

Product and packaging: When the pandemic hit, many of us went from a five to 10 per cent digital business to 100 per cent digital overnight. Then as things began to normalize, that figure moved to between 40 to 60 per cent.

Packaging has always been important, but it’s now become the only interaction that many of our guests will have with our brand. As we look back on these last few years, we feel good about doing as well as we did during the pandemic, but we can’t rest on that success – we have to focus on and elevate what’s next. We know that we must enhance both the functionality and the aesthetics/ branding of our packaging.

Delivery: From the kitchen to the in-store guest, phone-in orders, OLO guest pick-up, and third-party delivery, we must think through each channel. At the height of the pandemic, we had to make urgent changes to stay in business. Now, we can refine what we put in place, and ensure we have continuous improvement happening in the way we build our entrees, expo them, package them, and hand over to guests or third-party drivers.

In our case, we changed online ordering vendors from our native Toast app to OLO. Thinking through our brand’s approach to food production, most stores have second makelines, but some don’t. Throttling, make-time, pick-up time, in-store shelving, and whether a guest or driver can pick it off a shelf or the food is held behind the line and requires a crew member to service the transaction – these are all key decisions that have an impact on the overall service and brand.

This is service today – managing digital downtime (for instance, we shut OLO off because we were understaffed). What does your playbook look like for general managers – how are you supporting them, are they stressed when staff call off due to being sick, and does that start a domino effect in the stores? Or, is there a well-worn path in the playbook where they know what to do and can manage through these shifts with relative ease (Chipotle closing in-store service and becoming digital-only stores, for example)?

Service: Being of service to our team first, and then extending this service through them to the guest. We’re calling Killer Burger’s new approach to service, our ‘six connections’.

Killer Burger’s six connections:

This creates a framework for guest service with a focus on when to connect with each guest, leaving most of the how up to each individual crew member.

First connection: Greeting

  • Within 10 seconds of entering the restaurants
  • All crew joins the greeting

Second connection: Order

  • Fast and friendly
  • Use suggestions to speed up ordering
  • No longer than three minutes in line

Third connection: Burger drop

  • Parading burgers
  • Present the face of the burger
  • Ticket time – 12 minutes

Fourth connection: Checkback

  • Three bites in
  • “How are the burgers?”
  • Second beer(s) or offer fountain drink refill

Fifth connection: Pre-bus

  • Towels in trays
  • Table cleared before guests leave

Sixth connection: Send off

  • Walking towards the exit
  • All crew joins the send off

Recently, we held an offsite strategy session to ensure we were focused on the right things as a leadership team. We came away from this meeting with amazing clarity that guest service is the number one thing we can and will improve. While we’ve made big investments in improving our technology platform, we realized that the in-store dining experience got lost in the shuffle. It was irrelevant for a big chunk of the past two years, and habits are hard to change – both ours and our guests! It doesn’t require new technology, there’s no CAPEX budget or change in production methods or procedures. It simply requires a clear framework so the team knows what success looks like, and a clear and consistent message from leadership that the guest experience is a priority.

For Killer Burger, as well as other brands, having freedom within that framework is key to delivering our brand. We work hard to make an incredible product and I’d say we’ve mastered that. COVID disrupted our service model, but we’re now through the survival phase and the time has come to return to a very intentional approach to providing amazing service across all our channels – dine-in, take-out, online ordering, and third-party delivery.

The author

John Dikos is the CEO of Killer Burger, a franchise brand based in Portland. He has more than 20 years of experience in building restaurant brands, including MOD Pizza, where he built and led the franchise business unit. In addition to his business acumen, Dikos volunteers as an advisory board member and mentor on the GLEAM Network to help individuals in the foodservice industry

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