Franchise Execs Talk Next Steps as Restaurants Reopen
The newest BurgerFi opened last week in Delray, Florida. Charlie Guzzetta, chief development officer of BurgerFi, spoke on the "Smart Steps" webinar June 18 presented by Franchise Times.
The conversation turned personal on a Franchise Times webinar June 18 about reopening the economy with three leading restaurant franchisors: Had those executives—of BurgerFi, Focus Brands and Checkers & Rally's—been back to dine in if their states were open?
"It's funny to watch people talk about opening the economy," said Kat Cole, president and COO of Focus Brands, the umbrella for Auntie Anne's, McAlister's Deli, Jamba and more. "The economy is not a door. It is a set of behaviors that rely upon psychological safety," both health and economic. "If one or both, in this case, are in question, it doesn't matter if you're allowed to open. It is about focusing on, what does the consumer want, what are they comfortable doing?"
She said she has two very young children, one of whom was in the ICU recently with a respiratory illness. "I'm not going into any restaurants, no way, no how. There's way too much risk for me."
Charlie Guzzetta, chief development officer of BurgerFi, based in South Florida, said he's been out to eat but he has friends and family who haven't, and his own dad nixed the plans to go out for Father's Day.
"We're hearing that Florida cases are spiking aggressively, so we are keeping our fingers on the pulse on this potential second wave in our neck of the woods. It's certainly a scary time, and I'm hoping that what we've learned will help us move forward," he said.
Even though BurgerFi has been able to open restaurants, at 25 percent or 50 percent capacity in different cases, "many customers are still choosing to come into the restaurant and take their food to-go," he said. "I think there might be a longer lag time to make people feel comfortable to sit in restaurants."
Frances Allen, CEO of Tampa-based Checkers & Rally's, said her brand sent another cautionary message "just last week," echoing the point about rising cases in a number of states. "We mustn't get complacent. Be vigilant about the safety procedures both for employees and guests. It's really critical that now we don't let up on that at all," she said.
"It's not going to be a second wave, it's going to be like a continual wave, up and down. Fortunately, we don't have many dining rooms to consider reopening," she said, as Checkers & Rally's has 100 percent closed kitchens and 100 percent drive-thrus.
"People need to feel safe. It's a psychological thing," she said. "They need to feel safe, they need to see safe. That's what we've got to do right now."
The webinar, called "Smart Steps: Restaurant Leaders Detail Innovation Tactics" and moderated by Franchise Times Editor Laura Michaels, covered the acceleration of innovation and the changing nature of franchisee support amid COVID-19.
Michaels also asked what franchises should do in light of the "second crisis" caused by George Floyd's death and resulting protests, and the "revived conversations around race and discrimination."
Cole eloquently addressed the question. "It certainly is more complicated when you have a large system like we do. Not everyone feels the same way, in our country, and in my franchise system, about what's going on."
She goes back to the concept, "leading for the majority about what's best for the brand."
"The reality is, the movement we are in—it's not a moment, it's a movement. It is important to our employees and to our customers and it should be to our corporations and it should be to our franchisees. The complex and nuanced part of it is, what is the role of a consumer-facing brand, what is the role of the employer…?"
"For us it's been following that pattern: inform and educate….and most importantly listen to our employees and our guests. They're the ones who make our business go 'round.
"What we are learning: Be fast enough to be urgent but not so fast to lose thoughtfulness," Cole said.
Click here to view the full recording of the webinar.