Delivering the Digital Restaurant: Chinese Food Delivery in a Competitive Delivery Era


Chinese food delivery has a long history in the U.S. There are more than 30,000 Chinese restaurants in America, a number that exploded around Nixon’s trip to China in the ’70s, but which has started to decline as the first-generation immigrants who created and ran these restaurants retire. Chinese food was one of the first foods to be delivered in America, and the Chinese takeout box is as synonymous with delivery as the pizza box.

With their long experience in profitable, consumer-loved delivery, these restaurants have a lot to teach the rest of the market about how to do delivery well. At the same time, new cuisine choices in delivery, courtesy of third-party marketplaces like DoorDash and UberEats, have made the delivery market more competitive for Chinese restaurants. While other cuisine types can learn from Chinese takeout, Chinese restaurants are also busily improving their game to compete with the relative newcomers.

The first advantage Chinese delivery has over third-party marketplaces is its profitability. Without several different parties (platform, driver, restaurant) involved in the transaction, Chinese restaurants have been able to profitably deliver food from restaurant to home at a reasonable price. What is the model that Chinese restaurants have so perfected that enables them to service the delivery market profitably?

Of course, good food consistently served is the basis for any great restaurant. No amount of business model adaptation or technology will fix lousy food. Chinese restaurants start with great food, and then make that food more easily accessible. Four major aspects make delivered Chinese food more profitable, efficient and effective as compared to other culinary categories’ current incremental approach through third-party marketplaces.

  1. Delivery-centric kitchens

The dominant form of Chinese takeout restaurant is off-premises-first. Your favorite local Chinese restaurant may not have any tables at all. If it does, customers are rarely in them. The restaurant is often to be found in older real estate and is typically quite small — about 1,000 square feet. In many ways, these restaurants were the original “ghost kitchens.” This little delivery kitchen, designed primarily for the ordering and fulfillment of Chinese food, makes much more financial sense than a large, décor-heavy dine-in concept at Main on Main.

Other restaurant categories are starting to bifurcate into dine-in and off-premises prototypes. The dine-in-focused locations will do what they do best: create a great experience for guests choosing to go out for a meal. The off-premises-focused locations will increasingly do what they do best: innovate a better delivery experience.

Because Chinese takeout restaurants have always known the power of designing for off-premises, this is an advantage they carry forward over other restaurants who are “omnichannel” — or trying to be all things to all people. As more urban areas are redeveloped, Chinese takeout restaurants need to resist the urge to take on too many channels and too much complexity. They also need to fight to maintain their advantageous locations as their landlords redevelop their shopping centers.

  1. Restaurants scaled to serve a tight delivery radius Chinese takeout restaurants are cheaper to build and cheaper to operate than their dine-in peers.  Because they are smaller and invest less in furniture, fixtures and equipment (FF&E), the upfront investment is low. Without a front-of-house to operate and clean, the labor costs are low. Together, these two factors enable profitability at lower average unit volumes (AUVs) than what a dine-in restaurant requires to succeed.

It’s critically important for Chinese takeout restaurants to succeed on lower AUVs. The delivery times need to be fast enough to fully utilize the drivers (more deliveries per hour) and to reduce the time between cooking and consumer (order-to-delivery time). “Windshield time” — time spent driving between pickup and dropoff — is wasted time. A tight delivery radius reduces windshield time. This tight delivery radius means the restaurant cannot rely on consumers who live or work 15-plus minutes away. With fewer consumers to drive sales, sales volumes can be lower than a large dine-in restaurant. The business has to be geared toward consumers who are a short drive away from the restaurant.

Again, Chinese restaurants have nailed this aspect of the delivery business. By designing for lower expected volumes, they can be profitable without millions of dollars in AUV. A recent innovation in the digital era has been to add cuisine types to the core Chinese restaurant through virtual restaurant brands. These brands increase the frequency of consumers who live within the existing delivery radius by offering nearby consumers more items to choose from vs. just Chinese food that they might order only once or twice a month.

  1. First-party ordering first

Chinese food delivery had a head-start in delivery by many years. This means consumers had an ingrained ordering behavior that was direct to the restaurant, with no third party in between. While third-party ordering is an easy way to get online, and may drive incremental orders, it is critical that Chinese restaurants give its existing fans an easy way to order. This will keep first-party customers ordering first-party.

Because Chinese food delivery was invented before the internet, its ordering mechanics are through the telephone. Ask any American over the age of 50 how they grew up ordering Chinese food, and they will tell you they called. They may tell you they still do. Even back then, the phone call was highly efficient, focused on placing the order and confirming a rapid fulfillment time. Payment was originally cash on delivery.

Chinese delivery has innovated tremendously in the last 10 years to keep up with the Marketplaces. Companies like Beyond Menu, MenuSifu, WondersCo and ChowBus have seen great success bringing traditional Chinese restaurants into the smartphone era. Tso Chinese Delivery in Austin has created its own impressive technology to make the ordering, payment and fulfillment process as seamless as possible.

Ongoing innovation in online ordering and fulfillment is critical for Chinese food restaurants to not lose their incumbent advantage. Chinese restaurants must choose a tech platform that includes the triumvirate of great first-party ordering: integrated product ordering, payments, and loyalty. Going a step further with a holistic system that connects consumer demand to back of house capacity and driver availability creates a customer experience that beats third-party delivery.

  1. Dedicated drivers

Delivery Chinese food establishments typically leverage dedicated drivers that are tied to specific restaurant locations. This driver pool increases availability, reduces delivery times, and enables batch delivery. It also prevents the broken hospitality chain inherent in a restaurant handing its food off to a driver who is employed by, managed by, and therefore responsible to… no one.

The challenge in Chinese food delivery is that historically drivers have often been family members — a cousin, an uncle, a son. As the second and third generation go into careers outside the restaurant industry, the pool of available drivers is shrinking. Going outside the family in the current labor environment can be difficult.

It seems much easier just to leverage the drivers on DoorDash, UberEats, or Relay and let these large, well-funded companies deal with finding enough drivers. The challenge is that using a third-party driver is expensive. The list price of most third-party deliveries is $6.99 per delivery. Most consumers will pay at most $4.99, leaving the restaurant $2 short.

New software, like Empower Delivery, can take away the effort of driver management by creating a gig working driver pool associated with the restaurant itself. Doing so reduces the inefficiencies and markups of using an outside driver while maintaining the “easy button” of a gig workforce.

Chinese food led the way in delivery for many years. These four advantages — design, location, direct ordering behavior, and  dedicated drivers — are huge advantages. Technology designed exclusively for these delivery-centric restaurants can innovate these four advantages and ensure that Chinese takeout restaurants continue to lead in delivered food.


Meredith Sandland and Carl Orsbourn are co-authors of “Delivering the Digital Restaurant: Your Roadmap to the Future of Food” and “Delivering the Digital Restaurant: The Path to Digital Maturity.”


Wing-shaped breast meat and strips have growing appeal thanks to convenience and consistency . . . .

Boneless Chicken Surges on Restaurant Menus Wingstop’s senior manager of public relations, Maddie Lupori, said the chain hadn’t seen a notable difference in the ages of people who prefer boneless to bone-in wings, although boneless orders skew more toward Hickory Smoked BBQ sauce compared to Garlic Parmesan for bone-in.

Wing-shaped breast meat and strips have growing appeal thanks to convenience and consistency.

Farmer Boys is a fast-casual chain from Southern California best known for its burgers. But these days its top sellers are made with boneless chicken.

“Our best-selling product is the Cobb salad,” chief marketing officer Joe Adney said.

That’s followed by its sourdough chicken avocado sandwich, made with grilled chicken, and next are the 102-unit chain’s new Kickin’ Chicken Strips, which are breast strips in a proprietary seasoning including garlic, onion, and paprika served with fries, Texas Toast and a drink starting at $5.99.

“I was looking at our overall chicken sales, which typically run less than burger sales,” Adney said, “but our chicken entrées, not including breakfast entrées, are now exceeding our burger sales by about 25%.” He partly credits the new strips for that success.

It’s true Farmer Boys operates in the comparatively health-conscious region of California, Arizona, and Nevada, but it’s not alone in seeing an uptick in boneless chicken sales. The country’s largest chicken wing chain, Wingstop, reported in its most recent earnings call that sales of boneless items, including boneless wings and sandwiches, are now 43% of total sales, the highest they have ever been.

CEO Michael Skipworth said during the call that boneless items exceeding 50% of sales is a distinct possibility, “which we believe could result in a structural change to our long-term food cost target, potentially yielding [cost of goods sold] in the low 30% range and further enhancing our best-in-class unit economics.”

Boneless wings, as opposed to nuggets and breasts, are doing particularly well. Of course they’re not actually wings, but breast strips, which allows for more stable prices. They also have greater appeal to younger customers in particular.

Market and menu research firm Datassential reports that 49% of Gen Z consumers, born in or after 1997, say they “love” boneless wings, compared to 46% among millennials, born from 1982 to 1996, and 41% among members of Gen X (1965-1981).

Baby Boomers are less impressed, with only 25% loving them.

Point-of-sale system provider SpotOn reports that, among its customers, 365 new boneless wing items were added to menus between July 23 and August 22, and that for the year ended in July 2023, the average price of boneless wing sales were up by 19%, from $8.08 to $9.62.

Wingstop’s senior manager of public relations, Maddie Lupori, said the chain hadn’t seen a notable difference in the ages of people who prefer boneless to bone-in wings, although boneless orders skew more toward Hickory Smoked BBQ sauce compared to Garlic Parmesan for bone-in.

Both of those are in third place in their respective categories, after Lemon Pepper and classic Hot Buffalo-style wings, she said.

A Popeyes spokesperson said in an email that boneless options such as tenders, as well as smaller nuggets that were launched in 2021, allow guests of the Atlanta-based chain with nearly 3,000 units to play with them more at home.

“In a world of DIY and life hacks, we’ve also seen recent social media trends of guests incorporating our Nuggets or Tenders into their own culinary creations, showcasing the versatility of our menu items,” the spokesperson said. “Our boneless offerings provide our guests with the freedom to enjoy Popeyes chicken in their preferred way, whether it’s in a sandwich, as a snack, or as a versatile ingredient in their own culinary adventures.”

Chili’s Grill & Bar has beefed up its boneless chicken portfolio by incorporating the items of virtual brand It’s Just Wings into its regular menu. Then it further enhanced the options with the introduction in August of Nashville Hot Chicken Crispers, made with breaded and fried breast strips.

Jesse Johnson, vice president of marketing for the Brinker International subsidiary of more than 1,600 restaurants, said Chili’s guests enjoy the fact that boneless wings allow guests to enjoy the chain’s 10 sauces “without the mess of bone-in.”

“And when trying to feed a huge crowd of football fans for the fall, boneless wings are an economic choice that won’t sacrifice the flavor and format of wings,” Johnson said.

“We’ve seen a huge rise in the popularity of boneless wings since the introduction of our virtual brand It’s Just Wings in 2020,” he added. “In the last three years, we’ve sold almost twice as many boneless wings as bone-in wings at It’s Just Wings.”

He added that the chain has seen “tremendous growth recently” in Chicken Crispers.

The Crispers, along with boneless wings and many other white-meat chicken items that have been added to menus recently, are made with strips rather than tenders.

The chicken tender, the smaller strip attached to each breast, has long been considered the best part of white-meat chicken, but Farmer Boys recently did away with them in favor of more consistent strips, Adney said.  “I kid you not, some tenders were as big as my hand, and some were as small as a little finger,” he said. “I’m not sure how big that bird could have been to have a tender that was as big as my hand.”

Breast strips, by contrast, can be cut according to customers’ specs into whatever sizes they want. That makes them easier for operators to use and results in a more consistent product, improving guest satisfaction, Adney said.

Boneless chicken also has a growing role at quick-service Mexican chain Del Taco, based in Lake Forest, Calif., with nearly 600 locations.

Fried and grilled boneless chicken have long been available in its tacos and burritos, which chief marketing officer Tim Hackbardt said gives the chain a competitive advantage, particularly the grilled product.

“This is unique and a competitive advantage in the category as our primary competitor doesn’t have any tacos on the menu with grilled chicken, and only one burrito,” Hackbardt said in an email.

The Crispy Chicken Tacos, featuring a fried product, “help anchor our 20 Under $2 Value menu, and guests love the fact that they can access great tasting crispy chicken products for under $2 each,” he said.

“Our grilled chicken tacos, burritos, and quesadillas are among our top sellers and always have been,” he added.

However, Hackbardt said that fried chicken in particular is growing in popularity, “and the protein fits well within our product forms such as tacos and burritos.”

Chick-fil-A, the largest chain when it comes to boneless fried chicken, or any chicken for that matter, has also noticed the appeal of its core product in burrito form, and offers fried chicken nuggets or strips as an option in its breakfast burritos.  – Source: NRM.


Executive succeeds Chad Gretzema, who has stepped down . . . .

Jack in the Box names Tom Rose as Del Taco brand president Jack in the Box Inc. has named Tom Rose as president of its Del Taco brand, effective immediately, the company announced Tuesday.

The San Diego, Calif.-based quick-service company said Rose succeeds Chad Gretzma, who “has stepped down from the role to pursue a new opportunity.”

Just recently, Rose consulted with Jack in the Box on an initiative to improve the company-owned Kansas City market, Jack in the Box said in a press release.

Before supporting Jack in the Box, Rose spent a decade as co-founder and franchisee of North Star Foods, a restaurant franchise management and acquisition firm specializing in maximizing operational excellence and sustainability. North Star owned 130 KFC and Taco Bell restaurants and generated revenues of more than $200 million, Jack in the Box said.

Work on the Kansas City market, we have seen meaningful staffing and sales improvement leveraged by his operational expertise and ability to execute,” said Darin Harris, Jack in the Box CEO, in a statement. “We are excited for Tom to evolve Del Taco to its next phase of growth and operational excellence, as he has demonstrated throughout his entire career.”

Prior to North Star, Rose held various senior leadership positions at Orion Food Systems, later acquired by Kohlberg & Co.

“I admire how these two brands started and the legacy they have created through their amazing people,” Rose said. “I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity to be a part of an organization with such a bright future.”

Jack in the Box owns and franchises about 2,200 hamburger restaurants in 21 states and has about 600 Del Taco units in 16 states. Jack in the Box completed the purchase of Del Taco in 2022. —  :Source: MRM



How Outback’s success in Brazil is Keeping the Australian-Style Barbecue Chain Alive

Outback Steakhouse, renowned for its American twist on Australian-style barbecue, has found unexpected success in Brazil as its U.S. business stalls.

The South American segment is responsible for an astonishing 83% of Bloomin’ Brands’ total international sales. In the first half of 2023, Brazilian sales surged by 61%, foot traffic rose by 42% and the average check increased by 19.2% compared with the same period in 2022.

These figures sharply contrast with Outback’s U.S. operations, in which sales grew 3.9%, foot traffic decreased 5%, and the average check increased 8.9%.

Brazil’s burgeoning middle class is a crucial factor in this success.

Outback’s journey began in Tampa, Florida, in 1988. It established its first Brazilian franchise in Rio de Janeiro in 1997. The Latin American market quickly became pivotal to the company’s growth, and by 2020 it had 109 locations in Brazil.

But Bloomin’ Brands’ revenue stagnated in the years before the pandemic. In 2020, reports circulated that Bloomin’ Brands might divest its Brazil assets, valued at $472 million, to streamline operations and bolster margins. Those plans to divest fell through when the pandemic hit.

In 2021, the Brazil segment rebounded, as sales jumped 26% year over year to $259 million. The business commanded 42% of the company’s international footprint.

The blend of American and Australian-inspired barbecue resonated in a country steeped in traditional barbecue culture. As Brazilian consumers have returned to dining out, they’re looking for new experiences such as themed restaurants, which have a mass appeal nationwide, especially in the southern and southeastern regions.

Outback’s footprint in Brazil is strategically placed in highly populated areas such as São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Brasilia. Those restaurants are also in areas where purchasing power and average earnings are increasing.

Nearly half, or 47%, of Brazil’s more than 213 million people are considered middle class, according to a study by the Harvard Review of Latin America. They’re known for their propensity to dine out.

In the second quarter, the Brazil segment saw same-store sales grow by 4.1%, with a slight dip in traffic compared with the previous year. Restaurant sales surged by $119.3 million, up nearly 20%, in sharp contrast to its U.S. performance.

Bloomin’ Brands has seen a notable share price recovery, rising from pandemic lows to $28.18 a share as of Aug. 31. This uptick was catalyzed by activist investor Starboard Value’s acquisition of 9.9% of Bloomin’ shares in early August. The firm is known for its success with companies such as Papa John’s and Darden Restaurants. – Source: Outback Steakhouse.


Chick-fil-A announced that it will develop two new restaurant concepts in the Atlanta metropolitan area and New York City . . . .

Chick-fil-A to build New Restaurant Concepts in Atlanta and New York City0:3 The quick service restaurant company will test an elevated drive-thru and a digital walk up concept.

The concepts, scheduled to open in 2024, are designed to improve the drive-thru and mobile ordering experiences for customers of the chicken sandwich chain.

“Digital orders make up more than half of total sales in some markets – and growing – so we know our customers have an appetite for convenience,” Khalilah Cooper Chick-fil-A executive director of restaurant design said in a press release.

Mor’ Chicken:The Chick-fil-A cows return in a big way with games, merch and prizes Chicken underpass The drive-thru concept will be built in the Atlanta area and will have four lanes that pass under the kitchen and can handle 75 cars.

The restaurant will have a larger kitchen space and a food transportation system that move the order from the kitchen to an employee that will deliver the meal to the car.

Customers who utilize the Chick-fil-A app will have their order sent to the kitchen as soon as they enter one of two designated mobile order lanes to ensure that they receive their order fresh from the kitchen. Customers will be able to order at the location.

Chicken sandwiches in the city

The digital walk-up concept will be tested in New York City and will only serve as a point-of-pickup for mobile orders.

The company says that the concept is intended to fit into urban areas with heavy foot traffic.

The company will use GPS tracking tied to the mobile app to ensure that the customer receives their order fresh.

While the release and video do not mention in-store sales, a Chick-fil-A spokesperson later clarified that limited walk-in options will be available.


Corbion Upgrades Listeria Control Model Tool with Temperature Feature

Corbion’s latest upgrade on its Listeria control model tool now includes a temperature feature. The online Listeria control model may aid food manufacturers to identify optimal antimicrobial interventions based on product formulation and other factors, including temperature, the company said.

The temperature feature enables users to input up to five different storage conditions with ascending temperature profiles. The feature also may enable users to more accurately mimic real-world storage and distribution conditions, according to the company.

The tool uses research data found by Corbion, which focuses on Listeria studies over more than 20 years and also estimates microbial outgrowth. With the research, users may enter variables like moisture level, pH, sodium and potassium content, nitrite levels and water activity as well as storage temperature. After entering their desired information, the tool will then generate detailed reports and plot predicted Listeria growth in the product over time, the company said.

“Being able to more quickly and accurately identify the optimalListeriacontrol solution helps our customers better protect their customers and their brands, reduce product waste, and streamline product development,” said Lonneke van Dijk, senior director, of Preservation at Corbion. “It also allows them to be more responsive to the changing needs of the market.”  — Source: Food Business News



Mexican Food Brand Debuts Burrito Bowl Kits

SOMOS, a ready-to-eat Mexican food brand, is merging convenience and Mexican cuisine with two new entries to its line of burrito bowl kits.

The added kits include a salsa verde variety, with plant-based taco filling, Mexican black beans and cilantro lime white rice, and a smoky chipotle option, which includes mushroom cooked in adobe sauce, pinto and black beans, Mexican street corn and white rice. Both burrito bowls act as a good source of protein, containing 26 grams and 16 grams of protein per serving, respectively, and they are ready to serve after five minutes on the stovetop or in the microwave.

“One of our goals with SOMOS is to get American consumers cooking Mexican food in their home kitchens with the same ease that they grab a box of pasta and jar of marinara sauce to cook Italian food,” said Miguel Leal, co-founder and chief executive officer of SOMOS. “Our burrito bowl kits are the perfect solution to help people get comfortable cooking delicious Mexican food that showcases the richness of Mexican cuisine without spending hours in the kitchen.”

The kits will be available exclusively in Target stores as part of SOMOS’ launch into the national retailer. Other products appearing on Target shelves include the brand’s salsa machas that debuted in June, Mexican black beans, chipotle refried beans and more. – Source: FSR.


Nestle Boosts Presence in Brazil Through Acquisition

Nestle SA has signed an agreement with Advent International to acquire a majority stake in the Brazilian premium chocolate company Grupo CRM. Financial details of the transaction were not disclosed.

Grupo CRM manages a direct-to-consumer model that includes more than 1,000 “chocolate boutiques” under the Kopenhagen and Brasil Cacau brands as well as an expansive online presence, Nestle noted. Kopenhagen was founded in 1928 and has evolved through product innovation and consumer experience. The company owns several chocolate brands in Brazil such as Língua de Gato, Nhá Benta, Lajotinha, Chumbinho and Cherry Brand. Brasil Cacau, meanwhile, is a separate chocolate brand that launched in 2009 and is sold in hundreds of “branded stores” throughout Brazil.

Renata Moraes Vichi, who has been with Grupo CRM for 25 years and has significantly grown the company during her tenure, will continue to lead Grupo CRM as chief executive officer and also will hold the title of minority shareholder.

“This acquisition further broadens and strengthens our confectionery presence in Brazil, enabling us to enter the high-end segment,” said Laurent Freixe, CEO of Zone Latin America at Nestle. “Kopenhagen and Brasil Cacau offer premium chocolates that are highly appreciated by Brazilian consumers. We are pleased that Renata Vichi will continue to lead the company with her deep knowledge and passion for the chocolate business, people and brands. Together, we will explore opportunities to further enhance the company’s unique premium chocolate experience.”

Nestle said it has a strong confectionery business in Brazil, and the transaction is expected to help the company grow in the high-end gifting segment. As part of the transaction, Nestle will support Grupo CRM’s sustainability ambitions.  Source: New Food Business.


New Report Looks at the Key Challenges that Social Media Marketers Face in 2023

Social media managers are regularly asked to take on a number of different roles, based on the evolution of platforms, the development of new strategies, target audience, staffing situations, etc. But it’s that variation that often makes the job so interesting, according to the latest survey from Hootsuite, which incorporates a range of insights from people working in the social media field, to provide a better understanding of how they see their work, their key challenges, and how the industry, in general, is changing over time.

And it is changing, as always. And with various businesses forced into lay-offs over the past year, the survey comes at a particularly interesting time in the space.

Hootsuite surveyed over 3,800 people working in the social media field for the report, which covers a range of key elements like job expectations, satisfaction, pay rates, and more.

You can download the full 80-page report here, which includes a heap of in-depth insights, but in this post, we’ll take a look at some of the keynotes.

First off, the report looks at the key challenges for social media managers, which will sound pretty familiar to most.


Never having enough time is almost an embedded staple, because we’d all love to be able to create video clips, AR effects, VR experiences, etc. But you can only do so much, and in most cases, that means that your social media manager is covering the critical elements, though there are always other opportunities on the horizon.


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Also worth noting is the “56% of people don’t feel like their bosses understand social” stat. That’s changing over time, but it can be a frustration, in that you’re developing strategies sometimes based on a flawed understanding as to what social media marketing can provide.

In other words, a lot of hard conversations about how you can’t just make things go viral on demand (I’m kidding, but…).

Yet, despite these challenges, most social media managers do enjoy their job.

According to the report, 77% of social marketers are happy in their role, while social pros whose jobs are entirely dedicated to social media are the happiest cohort.

However that’s not the norm, with most social managers split across other elements.


Maybe there’s a case to be made for more dedicated social media roles, though the challenges in tracking ROI, which can be partially linked back to the above-noted broader misunderstanding of the process, could be a restricting factor here.

The report also looks at the advantages and disadvantages of working from home for social media managers.

No surprises there, while it also looks at which specific tasks social media managers find more or less challenging.

Hootsuite’s also includes data on average pay rates for social pros, which may give you some benchmarks for your next review meeting.


Also worth noting is that only 29% of social media managers indicated that they’ve been able to advance into higher management roles, which suggests that despite social media maturing as a business consideration, it’s likely still not viewed as being at the same level as more traditional processes.

Or social media managers don’t make great people managers, maybe. You can draw your own conclusions, but it’s another interesting data point from the survey insights.

There’s a heap more info in the full report, which also covers more specific elements of working in social, including gender balance, responses to recent lay-offs, impacts on mental health, and more.

You can download Hootsuite’s full “2023 Social Media Career Report” here.

Source: Social Marketing


Epic Burger to more than double in unit count

The Chicago-based Epic Burger chain has acquired all six Meatheads Burger locations across the Windy City with plans to convert them by Dec. 1.

The move, which was announced on Thursday, will allow the Epic Burger concept to more than double in unit count from its current five units to 11 in the Chicagoland area. It also marks an end for the Meatheads Burger brand, which along with parent company Crave Brands LLC, filed for bankruptcy in 2021.

Epic Burger CEO David Grossman said he acquired the Meatheads operation from the Crave Brands’ lender as a result of the bankruptcy. Grossman picked up the six restaurants to convert them to the fast-casual Epic brand.

Changing the signage, POS system, recipes, and more will take some time, however, so the restaurants will continue to operate as Meatheads until they are converted, he said.

Grossman said he’s particularly happy to bring the first drive-thru locations into the Epic Burger family. Four of the six Meatheads have a drive-thru, and that component could be a key to the Epic chain’s future growth, he said. Two locations are near college campuses in Bloomington and Champaign, which will also help the Epic brand reach a burger-hungry audience.

Calling itself a “more mindful” burger concept, Epic Burger focuses on the use of premium ingredients, like local Wisconsin cheese, organic ice cream, nitrite-free bacon, and cage-free eggs. The burgers and grilled chicken are halal-certified, he said.

The concept was founded by David Friedman in 2008, but Grossman acquired the concept in late 2020. At the time it had eight units, but three unprofitable locations were closed after the sale.

“The company had been neglected and it was broken,” said Grossman. “I believe I fixed it.”

Grossman, who had worked previously as an area developer for Freshii and Subway, said he brought the five remaining units to profitability by improving the food, upgrading the restaurant atmosphere, and developing the staff.

The average unit volume for an Epic Burger is about $1.2 million currently, but Grossman believes he can get units to about $1.6 million, or higher with a drive-thru.

Once the Meatheads locations are absorbed, Grossman said the company will look for more growth, perhaps in markets outside Chicago, like Detroit or other parts of the Midwest. Franchising could be an option down the road, he said.

“Right now, our strategy is to focus on the drive-thru,” he said. “We want to understand that component and get the operations down.” ,

: Source Restaurant Business The acquisition will allow the “more mindful” Epic Burger to more than double in unit count and will bring drive-thru locations into the fold. But Meatheads will be no more. . . .



Restaurant operators maintain focus on food safety, despite labor challenges

Experts see heightened awareness in the industry in the wake of the pandemic.

Mark Hamstra | Sep 07, 2023

Foodservice operators have been forced to streamline their operations and menus amid the tight labor market of the last few years, but that doesn’t mean they have taken their eyes off their food safety practices.

Doing more with less has become a mantra for the industry. Although there have been some signs that the industry is returning to pre-pandemic employment levels, there were still nearly 1.1 million job openings in the restaurant and accommodations sector as of the end of July, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Dr. Ben Chapman, department head of Agricultural and Human Sciences as well as professor and director of the Safe Plates food safety extension and research program at North Carolina State University, said operators appear to be keeping food safety top of mind even as they find ways to operate more efficiently and with fewer workers.

“Just having fewer staff doesn’t equate to having more food safety issues,” he said. “It all comes down to how an operator manages their staff.”

As restaurants have grappled with labor challenges, many have eliminated some items from their menus, which can reduce some of the burden on staff and ensure they have time to fulfill their responsibilities when it comes to food safety practices, Chapman said.“If they are too busy, they have more chance of making mistakes,” he said, citing research he has conducted around hand-washing practices in restaurants.

Hourly worker responsibilities

Don FitzGerald of Safe & Sound Food Safety Consultants, which conducts food safety training, pre-health department inspection audits, and other services, said operators need to ensure that food safety remains a priority even if managers are busy filling in at other positions or providing support in the kitchen, behind the bar or on the dining room floor.

“They can’t stop doing these things to do something that an hourly employee should be able to do,” he said.

Making sure hourly employees are responsible for fundamental food-safety practices such as monitoring temperatures not only removes this burden from managers, FitzGerald said, but it can also help hourly workers feel more empowered.

“If you give them more responsibility, they take more pride in their jobs,” he said.

Jeff Nelken, a Los Angeles-based food safety consultant, also stressed the importance of maintaining frequent, back-and-forth communication between management and workers. That way, any issues that arise, including things that could impact food safety, can be addressed before they result in accidents or outbreaks of foodborne illness.

“Just talk about what’s going on, ask people what their challenges are, and about any frustrations they have at work, and also talk about food safety,” he said.

Onboarding inexperienced workers

One of the effects of the tight labor market has been an increase in the hiring of workers from outside the industry.

While this can add to the complexity of ensuring that food-safety practices are followed, it’s not always a detriment to these efforts, especially if experienced workers come from restaurants where food safety is an afterthought.

“I have been in this business for many years, and I have always thought there was an advantage to bringing people in from outside the industry,” said FitzGerald. “You are getting people who have no bad habits.”

For job applicants who have restaurant experience, FitzGerald said he encourages his clients to ask potential new hires about the food safety practices at their previous employer, such as whether or not workers faithfully adhered to safety procedures, or if enforcement was lax.

He also suggests that operators mix in some specific questions about food safety when they screen employees, even if the applicants claim to have completed a food-safety course, as is required in many states.

“Are they the ones that took that online course? You never can tell, which is why you should ask them some food safety questions,” FitzGerald said.

Nelken said he reinforces with new hires that the performance expectations around food safety practices in restaurants are every bit as important as the performance expectations workers may have had in their previous jobs outside the industry.

He also said he likes to walk through the restaurant with new employees and show them what health inspectors are looking for, and reinforce to them that they need to be ready to answer questions from those inspectors.

“They want to make sure that you have been trained, and are prepared to do the job safely,” he said.

FitzGerald agreed that employees need to be conversant in the rules around food safety, including time and temperature requirements for food storage, as well as requirements around sanitation and personal hygiene. Health inspectors can ask questions of workers to test their awareness of food safety requirements and can downgrade a health inspection if a restaurant employee fails at what is called a “demonstration of knowledge.”

“They can ask a dishwasher, ‘What’s the temperature supposed to be in the first compartment of a three-compartment sink?’” said Fitzgerald. “And, ‘What’s the minimum temperature for your hand-washing sinks?’ People should know these things.”

To help reinforce the importance of food safety, FitzGerald said he often returns to a restaurant a few weeks after giving a food-safety course and observes a lunch shift and a dinner shift. This helps reinforce the lessons of the class and course-correct any improper behaviors that may have re-emerged.

“The restaurant manager often doesn’t have time to do this, because they are doing a job, or maybe they are doing 20 jobs,” he said.

The benefits of automation

Many operators have been exploring opportunities to leverage technology solutions to minimize labor, from self-ordering kiosks to robotic fry cooks and burger flippers. To the extent that such automated solutions free up staff to focus on other critical functions — including food safety — they can be a boon to a restaurant’s efforts to protect the public from foodborne illness, said Chapman.

He noted, however, that introducing new pieces of equipment such as these could also introduce the need for additional cleaning and sanitation measures specifically related to their use.

Automation designed to assist in monitoring restaurant conditions, such as sensors that measure temperatures and automatically send alerts to a mobile phone or computer, can provide benefits to those operators that can afford such solutions, food-safety experts said.

“I think there are a lot of benefits for exploring digital food safety management systems,” Chapman said. “These sensors can be extremely beneficial.”

In addition to the potential labor savings that such devices can provide, they can also conduct additional monitoring that workers might not readily detect, such as a holding well that is losing its ability to maintain its temperature, he said.

Elevated awareness of food safety

Genuine awareness and concern around the importance of food safety has increased in recent years, in part due to the focus on hand-washing and sanitation that emerged during the pandemic, according to food-safety experts.


Genuine awareness and concern around the importance of food safety has increased in recent years, in part due to the focus on hand-washing and sanitation that emerged during the pandemic.

“Our experience with new, entrepreneurial folks in the industry is that they want to do it right, and for the right reasons,” FitzGerald said. “They understand the obligation to protect the public health.”

The pandemic also highlighted the importance of ensuring that employees stay home if they are ill, he said.

“We remind people that A, COVID really hasn’t gone away, and B, the obligation not to come to work when you are sick has not gone away,” he said.

Chapman also believes many operators have been taking a responsible approach to food safety.

“Fortunately,” he said, “there are some progressive companies out there that are doing the right things.

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