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Red Robin reboot, plus more NRA Show news


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Red Robin President Denny Marie Post chats with a moderator at the NRA Show.

Complacency is the enemy, while changing with the times is the necessity. It’s a message that permeates the restaurant industry and a lesson Red Robin President Denny Marie Post knows well.

Arriving at the casual dining chain five years ago, Post found a brand that had morphed over the years into one that was family-centric, kid-centric and had lost its identity as the tavern-style restaurant it was when it launched in the late 1960s, with deep roots in alcohol sales.

When the recession hit, “the first thing that really peeled away was the guest who had children,” explained Post during the Signature ’16 keynote at the National Restaurant Association Show May 22. “That’s the first guest who started staying home. We were uniquely vulnerable to that because we were so skewed toward families with kids, that we were the first to really see that impact.”

Red Robin has since undertaken several brand revitalization initiatives, including menu innovation that reflects the addition of “Gourmet Burgers and Brews” to its name— a Nacho Crunch burger and the Red Ramen Burger, along with boozy milkshakes and “can-crafted cocktails.” And to help recapture different demographics, “we needed to morph the design of our restaurants in a way that would allow us to accommodate different types of parties,” said Post.

Updates include a 21-and-over bar area with beer-themed décor and more mature vibe; a gathering area of the dining room with new red lounge chairs meant to appeal to teens and young adults; and a family dining area.

 “We have the audacity to believe that we can serve a 95-year-old and a 2-year-old and everything in between, and I think we do that pretty damn well,” said Post.

Denny Marie Post

Boozy milkshakes and gourmet burgers are in at Red Robin, says Denny Marie Post.

Along with almost everything else in today’s on-demand society, restaurant guests want control of their dining experience, whether it takes place in the restaurant or, increasingly, outside of it. “That expectation of control is one we have to figure out because the guest no longer wants to give it over to us,” said Post.

 “I think there will always be a place for coming out for a great dining experience, but the winners are going to be the ones who figure out how to package that whole thing up and take it home. That’s where we’re trying to skate to and really working hard; even if we end up being last into online ordering, then we’re determined we’re going to be the best into it.”

An ‘Uber’ for everything

Control is what restaurants get when they use UberEats for delivery, said Jason Droege.  “We put restaurants first,” said Droege, who as Head of UberEverything (yes, that’s his actual title) is tasked with finding new ways for the ride-sharing company to leverage its extensive logistics network. “How that breaks down, is every restaurant that’s on UberEats has agreed to be on UberEats. Every menu for every restaurant is created in partnership with the restaurant.

 “We want to help restaurants leverage the kitchen capacity that they have and grow their business.”

Entering the food delivery space made sense for Uber, said Droege, despite the landscape being crowded with the likes of Postmates, GrubHub, Caviar and others. There is a rise in consumer demand, yes, but Droege said Uber takes a higher-level view: “Everything we do should benefit the city, it should celebrate the cities … it should also enable people to engage with the best of their city in a more frictionless way.”

That’s where Uber’s logistical prowess comes in. While on the surface many of the delivery services look the same, Uber’s investment in technology and sheer number of drivers allows UberEats to boast faster delivery times. Fourteen minutes is the average time globally from when UberEats drivers get food from the restaurant to the time the consumer receives it.

 “From a food integrity standpoint, I think that really helps,” said Droege of what is a key concern for many restaurant owners considering delivery.

Jason Droege

Jason Droege’s actual title is ‘Head of UberEverything,’ indicating Uber’s ambitions.

Since its launch in 2015, UberEats has expanded to 18 cities across three continents and has more in its sights as it identifies cities where the restaurants are mutually excited.

 “It’s not a secret that when Uber gets passionate about a business, it invests heavily in it, to do it right, to make true change how we can and partner with the communities that we’re going into,” said Droege.

 “If we’re representing the flavor of that city and really celebrating that and giving people access where they didn’t have access before to all the best things, rather than just being physically close to it, that’s when we know we’re kinda on to something.”

Technology front and center

Along with delivery, digital ordering and integrating restaurant operations were hot topics at the show, as companies touted their technology solutions.

With its new GrubCentral platform, restaurant operators using Grubhub for their online orders can now create and modify their menus in real time. Web browser-backed GrubCentral replaces OrderHub, which required restaurants to go through Grubhub and use its tablets to make any menu changes.

 “It was a pain point we knew about, we just needed the right platform,” said Tammi Harrison, VP of product marketing. “And now with the integrated delivery service it makes the whole experience smoother for the restaurant. They can request a driver when they have overflow, so they’re able to use GrubCentral in addition to another service if they want.”

GrubHub continues to expand its restaurant delivery footprint, having recently acquired Los Angeles-based LAbite for $65 million. Grubhub’s portfolio also includes Seamless, Restaurants on the Run, DiningIn, Delivered Dish, Allmenus and MenuPages.

Meanwhile, going beyond its broadline distributor role, Sysco highlighted its CAKE restaurant management system, which includes point-of-sale, guest management and online ordering products. A waitlist management app, part of the guest management option, texts guests when their table is ready, and also provides real-time table statuses to help increase table turns and give more accurate wait time predictions.

Finally, with labor cost concerns on the minds of many restaurant operators, software provider Sling spotlighted its new labor cost analysis tool to help control staffing needs.

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