Two panel discussions at the recent Restaurant Franchising and Innovation Summit focused on modern kitchen design and third-party delivery services. Experts with several brands shared insight on hurdling challenges during the annual Networld Media Group event.

How top brands are tackling kitchen design, third-party delivery challengesMario Paysse, VP of sales for Botrista Technology, C.J. Ramirez, SVP of marketing at Dog Haus, Jean Schneider, director of franchise development and innovation for The Human Bean and Sam Stanovich, senior VP of franchise leadership.

Operations ranging from kitchen design to robotics and third-party delivery was the focus of two panel discussions at the Restaurant Franchising and Innovation Summit hosted by Networld Media Group and held in Atlanta, Georgia.

The event is one of several restaurant industry summits run by Networld Media Group. The media company’s Fast Casual Executive Summit will take place Oct. 3-5 in Charlotte, North Carolina, and a virtual event #QSRNext, will take place Nov. 9. Now in its 16th year, the Fast Casual Executive Summit brings together the best brands in the world for three days of interactive sessions that delve deep into topics that are on the minds of restaurant leaders today.

Modern kitchen design reduces space

In a post-COVID world, restaurant design is changing.

During the “Bringing Your Kitchen Out of the Dark Ages” panel discussion, experts said kitchen footprints are getting smaller and the idea of “ghost” kitchens has become more attractive as a way to increase business without increasing overhead. Many companies are looking for ways to reduce space and tighten up operations.

At Big Chicken, CEO Josh Halpern said his company does 500 to 600 covers out of 400 square feet mainly due to efficient kitchen design. When franchisees enter the Big Chicken kitchen, they see there’s very little waste or anything to tweak. The company took into consideration what equipment they were going to use, how they were going to lay it out and how to minimize the reliance on staff while still engaging staff, he said.

Kevin Kilgore, vice president of Focus Brands, said his company groups design into two categories — restaurants and specialty non-traditional locations like universities, airports and malls. Because some of those locations are not convenient, Focus Brands has started co-branding those concepts streetside.

Smashburger’s Vice President of Quality Management Erin Marcoux said the company has reduced its footprint, sometimes from 2,400 square feet to 1,800 square feet, thanks in part to rising real estate costs.

“We do a lot of things vertically in that space,” Marcoux said. “Verticality is a big thing for us and then flow. You have to figure out how do you get your people to minimize steps inside the kitchen. … We’ve gone to an open kitchen design so whereas the grill used to be in the back of the house it’s now closer so the guest can get that experience.”

Making third-party delivery your ally

During the “Taming the Beast: How to Make Third-Party Delivery Your Ally” panel discussion, C.J. Ramirez, senior vice president of Dog Haus, said his company is seeing a decline in third-party delivery but a rise in pick-up, so the customers have a vested interest in seeing the business succeed. “That means we’ve done a good job of speaking to our customers and making them feel connected,” Ramirez said.

The consumer is more in-touch with brands than they’ve ever been before, said Sam Stanovich, senior vice president of franchise leadership at Big Chicken. During the pandemic, third-party delivery services became necessary for survival, he said, especially with the current labor shortage.

“If you don’t partner with them, you’ve significantly crushed your opportunity for discoverability, so you must be onboarded with third-party delivery services,” Ramirez added. Third-party delivery services are spending more money to capture customer attention, he added. The services show up on search engines higher than many brands because they’ve got the money to back it up, he explained.

Jean Schneider, director of franchise development and innovation for The Human Bean, said third-party delivery is important to introduce a brand to new customers. These third-party delivery services reach consumers that brands might otherwise not be able to like office workers and retirees.

Embracing the third-party delivery driver is crucial, Stanovich said. “Turn those drivers, especially the good ones, into ambassadors,” he said.

Ramirez said driver safety should be taken seriously, as they’re the ones who represent a brand in the end. “When you were able to turn your driving room into shipping and receiving, it was easy” to give drivers their own areas,” he said.