Restaurant Development & Design

January-February 2017

restaurant development + design is a user-driven resource for restaurant professionals charged with building new locations and remodeling existing units.

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J A N U A R Y / F E B R U A R Y 2 0 1 7 • r e s t a u r a n t d e v e l o p m e n t + d e s i g n • 2 1 and surveys, we got an immense amount of feedback and identified things we needed to improve. It can be pretty sober- ing in those panels to hear what people are saying about you — the good, the bad and the ugly — but you have to hear it. What were some of the loudest messages that came through? DM: One was that, while people liked the food, they thought we looked too "fast foodish." Our facilities were dated and not inviting. We also heard that our ser- vice wasn't on par with the food. So food, facilities and service weren't in sync. That became a foundational building block in putting together a vision and strategy for the next two years. We kept doing the consumer research as we went through the process of redesigning our prototype to ensure we were on the right track. That included panels made up of Millenni- als — is that a target demographic? DM: We had no illusions of attracting a lot of Millennials, but we did a couple of focus group sessions with them just so we could understand what it might take for them to give us a nod. One of the things that they asked us was what we were doing about our logo. We hadn't even thought about changing the logo, but they suggested that we needed to update it along with the facility. So we gave the logo a lift as well. How do you characterize the new look and feel of Back Yard Burgers? DM: It's sleeker and more contemporary. The natural wood-look finishes, exterior deck seating, corrugated metals, elevated roof line — all give it a distinctive look that's immediately noticeable well before you step inside. Whether it's your current or potential customers their initial impres- sion is the exterior, so we focused hard on making sure the exterior maintenance, landscaping and pole LED lighting all add up to a warm and comfortable look from the street. Our footprint going forward will also be smaller — 50 seats and 2,300 to 2,500 square feet instead of 100 seats and 3,000 to 3,500 square feet. With a lot of our business coming from the drive- thru, it doesn't make sense to have really large seating areas. We opted for nicer, smaller interiors. How large a contributor is drive-thru to total sales? DM: It's roughly half of our business. As part of our rebranding, we enhanced the drive-thru experience. We installed digital menu boards, both inside and outside, which not many brands have yet. We also installed timers, order con- firmation boards, and a top-notch sound system to ensure clear and easy com- munication. And we made sure the drive- thru is well-landscaped and attractive. What impact has the redesign had on unit opening costs, and how will it be rolled out? DM: The base remodel, with exterior changes, signage and the full interior package, runs between $250,000 and $300,000. Resolute Brands in Jackson, Miss., our largest franchisee, volunteered to do the first remodel in Gulfport and is looking for a second location to remodel in early 2017. We're also working to raise capital to remodel a number of company stores. As franchisors, we need to send a message to franchisees that, while it's not mandated yet, it's important to do this to remain competitive. All new units will have the new look going forward. What are your development targets and the biggest challenges to meeting them? DM: My focus for growth is in the South- east. That's where we're best known and, at 23 company stores and 33 franchised units, we're still very underrepresented. Our biggest challenges are the costs of real estate and construction, as well as our own labor costs. And, of course, we're all fighting to get more custom- ers in the door. But that's what you sign up for. To me, at the end of the day it's all about the people. Some of this is pretty tough, but if you have good people around you, it's also very fun and reward- ing. I'm fortunate to be able to work with some really great people. + Back Yard Burgers' new prototype, unveiled in October at a remodeled unit in Gulfport, Miss., repositions the 30-year- old better-burger brand with a sleeker, more contemporary look both inside and out. Photo by Steve Linhoss

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