Expert Interview – Chain Restaurant Challenges and Solutions

Americans love dining out. Sometimes it’s for a quick bite and other times it’s a leisurely meal with friends and family. According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2016 Pocket Factbook, restaurant industry sales are expected to grow to $782 billion in 2016. Many of the fastest growing restaurants are part of multi-unit operations, or chains, and they have unique challenges. For the March Expert Interview I spoke with Andrew Paton, Dade Paper’s Director of National Accounts. Andrew has 15 years of experience working with restaurants, including chain headquarters, helping them improve operations.

LC: You have been working closely with multi-location restaurant operators for many years. What is one big change you have seen recently?

AP: There has been a surge in new fast-casual concepts that focus on fresh and natural food served fast with a focus on the lunch crowd. These QSR-Plus concepts often start locally and then, when successful, expand nationally. The elevated “fast food” menus appeal to today’s diners who are looking for a good meal, on the go, at reasonable prices.

LC: What are the current challenges for these QSR-Plus restaurants?

AP: Uniformity across franchised locations can be challenging. It is important that their branding remain consistent regardless if the store is in New York or Miami. For example, it can be difficult to ensure that each location is able to buy the same products at the same prices throughout the franchise concept. This is where a multi-location supply chain program can help. An experienced distribution partner can facilitate the entire process beginning with sourcing and inventory management of branded items and all the way through to store-door delivery and management reporting.

Food safety is another current hot topic. Good news travels fast but bad news travels faster. In the age of the internet one bad health inspection or outbreak could give a franchise concept a black eye system wide. My advice is to create a food safety audit for franchisees to utilize on a weekly basis. Keep it simple. You don’t need fifty cleaning chemicals to get the job done. Again, use the knowledge of an experienced distributor partner. They can help create an inexpensive and effective cleaning protocol for new and existing franchisees to follow.

LC: What are current opportunities for these companies?

AP: Focusing on catering is great strategy for organic growth in sales. A small investment in good quality catering packaging and promotion of a catering menu to current customers can have a positive result on the bottom line. Every type of restaurant, from pizzerias to BBQ restaurants, has the capacity to offer a catering menu. The opportunity is there and at little risk.

LC: What additional advice can you share?

AP: Separate takeout/delivery packaging from your left-over packaging. Customers appreciate the value of good quality takeout packaging that keeps the food looking and tasting great. How many times have you spent $50 or more on takeout or delivered meals for your family only to open it and find wet, soggy food in a leaky container that was delivered in a thin plastic “thank you” bag. It is not very appetizing! Bottom line is that the right packaging can make a huge difference in customer satisfaction resulting in repeat business.

If cost is a concern, find one inexpensive container that is used only for dine-in customers’ leftovers and make the investment in takeout packaging to increase sales.

LC: What trend should restaurant operators consider now?

AP: Environmentally-preferable packaging is becoming more and more prevalent. Years ago, when the green movement was catching on, the products were limited and very costly. Over the years they have become more affordable and there are an increasing number of options. Recycled and recyclable packaging are popular and in some instances compostable packaging is a great fit. Depending on the situation and the type of food there are a variety of solutions.

Andrew and his team of restaurant-segment managers are available to consult with businesses about improving restaurant operations through both packaging and sanitation products and procedures. Andrew can be reached at apaton@dadepaper.com.