COVID-19 ‘Shifted’ Business for Toppers Franchisee
Kevin Glendinning and his sister Julie, taking a break from dough prep at their Toppers before the pandemic.
Family Recipe Restaurant Group CEO Kevin Glendinning is almost reluctant to say it, but the Toppers Pizza franchisee said business during the COVID-19 crisis hasn’t cratered, but it has changed. It’s a good time to be a pizza delivery restaurant.
“For us, I’d say things are going well, it’s just shifted for us,” said Glendinning. “We were set up for what was coming, just being so heavy in the delivery pickup game to begin with. The biggest difference for us is just the change in patterns.”
Franchise Times caught up with Glendinning to hear about how the Zor Award-winning brand has operated during the COVID-19 pandemic and see where the brand stands in this new normal.
One of the biggest changes was the dramatic slowdown in late-night business. The daypart was a key differentiator for the brand, but with bars and other nightlife businesses closed, it’s a lot quieter after the dinner hour. As offices remain closed, big business lunches are out too, said Glendinning.
“We’ve lost our bar crowd and in our suburban locations we have lost some of our bigger business orders. But it’s been offset by picking up a lot more residential orders,” said Glendinning. “A lot of exhausted parents teaching from home and looking for pizza because they’re tired from working and teaching all day.”
He said sales don’t look all that different, which is an enviable place to be right now as sales are down from 20 percent in quick-service to more than 50 percent in full-service restaurants, according to analytics firm NPD Group.
“On paper, it doesn’t look a lot different,” said Glendinning. “I almost get embarrassed saying that; I have so many friends in the industry and I grew up in a restaurant. I’m looking forward to things getting back to normal. I feel for my brothers and sisters in the industry that aren’t at full capacity.”
It’s not just being in the pizza business that's helped. He said Toppers put a lot of effort into changing course when COVID-19 hit to ensure staff safety and give customers peace of mind. Glendinning said the company helped out to reformat restaurant lobbies with limited takeout capacity and for social distancing.
“Now, we have clear signage explaining, and making it as big as possible, letting people know this is how many people we can have in our lobby, listing the number to call and outlining the exact procedures so we can come out and bring you your order to the door,” said Glendinning. “It’s really helped with the third-party drivers; they are out everywhere and the less they are in and out of a million places they appreciate it.”
As for staff, it was all about safety.
“Toppers has been helping us on the supply side to get masks for all employees, that’s the biggest thing. As a small franchisee we don’t have the supply chain access, but they’ve done a great job of navigating that for us,” said Glendinning.
He said this weird time has also brought some old employees back, a welcome change compared to the tricky labor market before but also to help out at restaurants where a handful of people with underlying health conditions are staying home.
“We’re working with a lot of former employees who had moved on to be a line cook somewhere, somewhere that is temporarily closed. We welcomed them back and say, ‘No hard feelings, we know you’ll go back when your restaurant opens,’” said Glendinning. “It’s been easier for cooks. For the delivery side I think there’s a little bit more concern about the amount of contact out in the world there.”
That concern for contact is ubiquitous, which is why the company joined many others in adding curbside pickup and contact-free delivery.
“We’ve added things to our online ordering system to tip in advance, so now our drivers are able to call, confirm that they want contactless and ask if they’d like a call or text when we arrive,” said Glendinning, noting that the change happened lightning fast for a small brand. “There are a lot of unsung heroes in the IT realm right now that responded quickly to a need. We didn’t have curbside or contact-free and it was a matter of seven to 10 days for all that to be available.”
As Minnesota, where all five of Glendinning’s restaurants are located, works toward reopening, he said he does expect a bit of “pizza fatigue” as other restaurants come back. But he’s eager for key business segments such as hotel traffic and, of course, the late-night Topperstix crowd, to return while also keeping some of the new customers coming back.
“It’s opened us up to some new guests, and hopefully we’re building some relationships for the long term,” said Glendinning.
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