As Freddy’s Reopens Dining Rooms, Off-Premises Focus Remains
Plexiglass cashier guards are being installed at restaurants across the Freddy's system, one of several safety measures the brand is implementing as it reopens dining rooms.
Several weeks ago, members of the COVID-19 response task force for Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers met at one of the brand’s company restaurants in Wichita, Kansas, where “we walked through every guest interaction to determine what can we do and what should we do,” said Scott Redler, co-founder and chief operating officer of the 383-unit brand.
That restaurant, along with other corporate-owned locations in the area, served as a prototype for the safety installations now being rolled out systemwide as Freddy’s begins to reopen its dining rooms with limited capacity. Social distancing floor and tabletop stickers, line dividers to establish a queue and plexiglass cashier guards are among the changes Freddy’s is bringing to its restaurants. Plexiglass backings behind booths provide another level of separation and, said Redler, are an example of how Freddy’s is taking steps above and beyond what’s recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The Freddy’s way,” a motto inspired by the brand’s namesake, Freddy Simon, that means “the right way to do things,” said Redler, is helping guide it through this crisis. “We took that same attitude and we utilized that in our response to COVID-19,” he said. “We’re out here to continue to enhance the trust that our employees and customers have in us.”
As pandemic-related shutdowns forced restaurants to adjust operations, every Freddy’s restaurant remained open for drive-thru—all but five stores have drive-thrus—and takeout orders, with 82 locations now offering limited dine-in service. Even with that drive-thru advantage, systemwide sales were down up to 37 percent during the first seven weeks of the crisis, said Redler, but over the last three weeks “we have started to see sales similar to last year.”
“We were extremely challenged like everyone else when the shutdowns occurred, but have been building back up as communities start to open up,” he continued. “Our dining room sales for the last seven days have been about 16 percent of sales, when pre-COVID we were about 50 percent, comparing restaurants with dining rooms open. When dining rooms open, we are starting off very slowly and they gradually have been building.”
While its drive-thrus remain a crucial way for customers to access Freddy’s, the brand also quickly shifted what was a limited test of third-party delivery at a couple dozen locations to a full-fledged rollout across the system. Using DoorDash as its sole platform, Freddy’s turned on both delivery and in-store pickup at its restaurants, reassigning its 25 franchise business coaches to assist franchisees with the accelerated effort.
A new mobile ordering initiative is also in the works, noted Redler (pictured at right), one that uses smartphone location data to inform order preparation. “Say if you’re 5 miles away and you order with your phone, the order won’t start being prepared until you’re in the parking lot,” said Redler, which will help Freddy’s maintain its focus on food quality. The brand is about 60 days away from beginning to test the new system in a handful of restaurants.
While Redler believes customers will continue to slowly return to restaurant dining rooms, predicting that volume is more of a guessing game, which is why Freddy’s is committed to strengthening its off-premises operations. “It’s hard to understand the comfortability of guests as we move through the virus; it’s a hard thing to know and we’re making our best guess,” he said. “We’re monitoring guest comments everywhere. Right now, our guests are very appreciative of everything we’ve been doing.”