One incredible outcome of the pandemic is the display of resilience and ingenuity shown by so many restaurant owners to keep their doors open and the public safe.
“Up until the pandemic, there was only one way to get a Voodoo Doughnut,” explains Chris Schultz, CEO for the unique U.S. doughnut brand, famous for its innovative doughnuts. “You had to come to a shop and stand in line.” The company had to pivot very quickly, implementing online ordering, third-party delivery and car-side pickup.
“Our stores weren’t built for customers coming in just to pick up a box and leave,” he explains. “We had to make changes so we could still offer an experience, not just a transaction. But we had to make sure that both customers and employees felt safe.”
Similarly, iQ, Canada’s leading healthy fast casual restaurant brand, has had to creatively manage its pandemic response. “The biggest win was the opportunity to take a step back and consider what the future of fast casual looks like,” says Alan Bekerman, iQ’s CEO. “We had to create a secondary source of growth; that meant a direct-to-consumer component. We have a decade of experience in serving seasonal menus. So how do we translate our knowledge into something magical to have at home?”
iQ’s answer is iQ ESSENTIALS, its new direct-to-consumer brand that gives customers access to ready-to-cook meals and snacks featuring the same ingredients found at its restaurants. On the flipside, the platform offers an innovative way for iQ to get to know its customers. “The nature of fast casual is fairly transient,” says Bekerman. “Because of the speed and manner in which our guests pass through our spaces, it’s difficult to establish a 1:1 relationship with every guest. For the first time, we have the opportunity to create meaningful and ongoing dialogue with our customers.”
Diversification also plays a role in resilience. “The one thing that became apparent is you cannot rely on one revenue channel,” he adds. “But you have to be smart about how you diversify beyond bricks and mortar. The great innovation for many restaurants has been paring back – the simplification of menus.”
But for Voodoo Doughnut, the opposite occurred. “We realized we had to go back to the core of what made us successful – coming up with great doughnuts,” says Schultz. “It was a great reminder to never forget where you come from.” Voodoo now rolls out a new donut every month, engaging with customers through social media. It’s been so well received they added a new location since the pandemic started, with another opening next month.
Bekerman agrees with going back to your roots. “Ask yourself, what are we great at? As a brand? As an organization? As a group of individuals? What are you uniquely positioned to do well? Equally as important, if we’re going to spend a lot of time and energy to develop something new, it can’t just be a band-aid for COVID. It has to be a long-term plan, something that’s as meaningful as our existing brand.”
And innovation isn’t limited to products either. “Innovation takes different forms for different brands,” says Schultz. “Sometimes it’s the service model or social media marketing. Making our stores more safe and comfortable for customers and staff – that requires innovation, too. You can’t just focus on the business. You have to think about your people, too.”
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Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications with Restaurants Canada. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.