Denny's, Dunkin' Bosses Talk Shop at Restaurant Finance Conference
Nigel Travis is chairman and CEO of Dunkin’ Brands, but to him every day starts with the franchisee’s bottom line. “You have to balance relevance of the brand with franchise economics,” Travis told attendees at the Restaurant Finance & Development Conference today.
“I get up every morning and worry about what our franchisees are making, and I work backward from that.”
That’s not necessarily what shareholders want to hear. “It puts comps second to franchise economics, which is tough to tell investors,” Travis said, adding his focus is singular: “What can build the business in a cost-effective way.”
Feedback from investors is also prompting Dunkin’ Donuts, one of two companies along with Baskin-Robbins that Travis oversees, to redesign its kitchens. “Investors were getting concerned about the number of breakfast sandwiches we’re selling. It’s a great problem but it’s still a problem,” he said.
He believes technology will help solve the riddle of serving customers who are on the go, but he worries about dividing customers into the tech haves and the tech have-nots.
“One thing we have to be careful about is two classes of citizens,” he said, relating a recent visit to Universal Studios with his two young children, where he was equipped with the ability to skip the long lines. “Any time I jumped to the front of the line, I was conscious of that.
“We have to think about how people feel when someone else is treated in a special way. I think that’s a big issue we all need to tackle.”
John Miller, CEO of Denny’s, came to the brand when it needed revitalization, and he described how he approached change. “We think about what we’re doing in food, service and atmosphere, getting all those right,” Miller said. “We’ve made several changes in all three, and then we measure the results. And if we’re not getting the results, we retreat” and re-do.
When Miller first came to Denny’s, he often fielded this question when visiting locations: “How do you get franchisees to comply?” “And I said, you don’t make anybody do anything, just like you can’t make customers come to your restaurant. When we find the right food changes, the right atmosphere changes, then we step on the gas,” he said.
Miller isn’t concerned about the decline of the family dining segment, Denny’s niche. “The family category has continued to shrink over the last 30 years dramatically. What is the future of family dining,” he was asked.
Miller shot back: “My vision for it is everybody’s gone but us, and we have 100 percent share,” he said, to audience laughter. Then he elaborated. “Often people ask, who wants to be John Miller in a category that’s declined so much. But the fact is, we’ve defied those trends.”
“Our category peaked in 1999; it’s lost share every year since then, but that doesn’t mean every brand has lost share. We’re gaining momentum in both transactions and comparative sales as a result. We see more momentum going to the top players in our category.”
The Restaurant Finance & Development Conference continues through Nov. 12 at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. The annual event is presented by Franchise Times’ sister publication, the Restaurant Finance Monitor.