“No, tuna has nothing to do with it,” my husband said into the phone, shooting me an exasperated look. “I said pepperoni, black olives and mushrooms. Can you read me back my order?”
That exchange, with my husband repeatedly correcting botched requests, went on for about 10 minutes. It would have been hysterical had it been a “Saturday Night Live” skit, but sadly, Rick wanted only to order a couple of pizzas, mozzarella sticks and a Caesar salad from the local unit of a big-name pizza purveyor.
As the conversation unfolded, it became evident that the person answering the phone did not have the acuity to handle the conversation or the order taking. The employer had put the wrong person in a position where accuracy matters. The call, made on a Friday night during the height of the NCAA tournament when lots of people presumably were calling for pizza, greatly frustrated a regular customer, likely upset the employee, and made the brand appear sorely lacking in one of the most crucial restaurant characteristics of the day: service.
Service takes center stage in this issue, with a story examining the strategies restaurant operators are employing to move the needle on the guest experience. Beginning on page 3 and continuing in the Operations section, Lisa Jennings explores how chains such as Jack in the Box, Ruby Tuesday and Fazoli’s are elevating friendliness, cleanliness, accuracy and other facets of service through cultural shifts, with the long-term goal of differentiating their brands and boosting sales.
Speaking of differentiation, have you seen the riveting animated short, “Back to the Start,” from Chipotle Mexican Grill? So far, more than 60 million people have viewed the piece, which started its life on the Internet and was subsequently broadcast nationally during the 2012 Grammy Awards. Called branded entertainment, the format is one of the five innovative marketing strategies included in this issue’s special report. Mark Brandau digs into integrated social media programs, website optimization and more as he looks at ways operators are raising brand awareness and driving traffic.
Pinterest is another marketing platform rapidly gaining favor with restaurant operators and consumers. One of the fastest-growing standalone websites, Pinterest had 17.8 million visitors in February, up from 11.7 million in January, according to comScore, a market research firm. Starting on page 3 and jumping to the Marketing section, a story by Ron Ruggless explores the Pinterest phenomenon and shares best practices from operators who have embraced it.
In the Business Intel section, Paul Frumkin takes a look at Wendy’s prospects, as the 43-year-old chain steps up its revitalization program and enters what chief executive Emil Brolick called “the three most intense years of capital investment in Wendy’s history, as we implement many strategic initiatives.” The efforts come as fierce QSR competition heats up even further and brands race to differentiate themselves from their peers.
That’s something leader-of-the-pack McDonald’s has achieved through its Plan to Win, a revitalization program launched in 2003. Over most of the past eight years, Jim Skinner has been at McDonald’s helm, ensuring that Plan to Win framed every aspect of the fast-food giant’s strategy. In Finance, we look at Skinner’s accomplishments during a tenure that will end July 1, when Don Thompson officially steps into the top spot. Hopes for Thompson are high, but Skinner casts a long shadow, having expanded McDonald’s from a purveyor of burgers and fries to one of smoothies, gourmet coffee and scones.
And, as McDonald’s has demonstrated, standing out is the name of the foodservice game — be it through products, messaging or service. As one Jack in the Box official noted, today’s guests have a “discriminating dollar.” If they have a bad experience, they’re not likely to go back.
As to the bad experience at our aforementioned pizza place, we’ll probably give them another chance and call again. But that’s it — one more shot is all they get.