Back To Basics

Every January we run Operator Perspectives, mini interviews with foodservice professionals from a variety of segments; they tell us what they foresee for their businesses in the coming year. Read together, you’ll often find that themes emerge, common outlooks or attitudes that reflect the challenges of doing business in the current economic climate.

This year, a strong common theme is a determination to get back to basics. Several chains are looking hard at operations and store layouts to optimize execution. They’re paring back menus, sparking interest with innovative but limited-time offerings and improving the core items that made them popular in the first place. They’re clarifying their identity and brand messages, taking care of existing infrastructure (including equipment replacement) and giving franchisees a lot of TLC. It reminds me of the “nesting syndrome.

The Great Recession has been over for several years and moderate but healthy growth is predicted for the foreseeable future (at press time, the Fed is on the verge of raising interest rates—a good sign); you’d think operators would be pretty upbeat. They are, but they’re also very cautious. The recession really did a number on us all and it’s reflected in the way the foodservice industry is moving forward, even now, almost six years later.

Scott Gittrich, President and Founder of Toppers Pizza, says it clearly: “Our internal challenges sound boring. They’re about execution of the basics, so we’re prepared for things that are coming as opposed to reacting defensively to things that are already on our doorstep.”

“Going back to our roots was really the secret to our turnaround,” Back Yard Burgers’ CEO David McDougall says, in a sentiment similar to Gittrich’s. “We focused on our food and operational execution. Unit-level economics and ROI have to be in place, otherwise it makes no sense to open more stores.”

Slow and steady, moderate growth is still growth, and it appears to be a pace those who survived the Great Recession are most comfortable with.

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