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Restaurant Informer

Serve, Refresh, Delight: A Closer Look at Atlanta-based QSR leader Arby’s

By Hope S. Philbrick

Fast-forward another 34 years, and Arby’s is still making heads turn. The company was recently ranked one of the top quick-serve restaurants in the U.S. to provide an overall excellent guest experience and menu offering in a recent mystery shopper campaign conducted by Service Intelligence, a data-collection company based in Charlotte, N.C. (Arby’s tied Chipotle for the top overall score.)

“We’re very pleased to see that our dedication to the guest experience, in combination with our commitment to providing an innovative menu, is receiving such tremendous feedback,” ays Paul Brown, CEO of Arby’s Restaurant Group, Inc. (ARG). “Our goal is to serve, refresh and delight our guests with every interaction.” Brown held key roles at Hilton Worldwide, InterContinental Hotels & Resorts, Expedia and McKinsey & Co. before joining Arby’s as CEO in April 2013.

For the survey, mystery shoppers visited quick-serve and fast- casual restaurants around the country and were asked to share candid feedback about their experiences. Arby’s topped the list in several categories: It ranked No. 1 in overall performance and interior cleanliness and placed among the top three in exterior appearance and customer service. More than two-thirds of mystery shoppers indicated that they also had a better experience at Arby’s than they normally have at a fast-food restaurant.

Arby’s currently has more than 3,400 restaurants worldwide; approximately 1,000 of which are company-owned and operated. In 2011, when it split off from Wendy’s, the Arby’s brand was acquired by Roark Capital Group. Business is strong. “We don’t release sales figures, but December 2013 was one of the most positive quarters in the history of the brand,” says Brown. “We’ve seen accelerating business for 13 consecutive quarters (through fourth quarter 2013).”

What’s driving this upward momentum? Brown credits product innovation like the new Smokehouse Brisket sandwich – a “phenomenal success” since it was introduced in October 2013, says Brown, that has been earning accolades as the “best-tasting sandwich in QSR”– and King’s Hawaiian® Roast Beef sandwiches. The French Dip sandwich was re-launched last September, with 33 percent more meat and double the cheese than the former recipe. Additional new products are in the works.

“We’ve also focused on improving operation of stores themselves,” says Brown. “Not just the bottom line but focusing on speed and quality of guest service. We’re trying to improve the quality of experience in our restaurants, beyond the food, and I’m very pleased by that progress. We’re happy with the results of the mystery shopper survey, and I see it as a combination of great product and labor improvements.”

To ensure quality is consistent across the brand, Arby’s employs an operational inspection process. “We visit every location twice a year, unannounced, to make sure every unit is adhering to our standards,” says Brown. Best practices are shared across the brand. “We also monitor guest feedback,” on various channels including social media. Any issues are addressed immediately.

Refocusing and Growing

In October 2012, Arby’s rebranded with the “Slicing Up Freshness” tagline. More marketing changes are forthcoming. “We’ll be announcing a new ad agency soon,” says Brown. “We intend to be operating under a new campaign by May of this year. I’m extremely excited about it – it’s very different than anything you’ve seen from an Arby’s, period. It’s very innovative and different than anything in the QSR space and will definitely get attention and get people talking about Arby’s.”

That’s not the only change coming: “We have a big initiative on remodeling and improving the actual buildings,” says Brown. The first location of the new prototype will open in Huntsville, Ala., in March.
When changing a brand, “it all starts with a clear long-term vision,” says Brown. The thought driver was: “What, ideally, should Arby’s look, feel and sound like as a whole experience five to seven years from now?” The new advertising campaign will communicate that vision.

“It’s important to have a clear sense of purpose as a brand – that everyone can rally around for a very long period of time,” says Brown. Arby’s brand purpose, “inspiring smiles through delicious experiences,” is at the center of a wheel graphic that outlines Arby’s business strategy and core values (the six values are along the outside edge). “That’s what we’re all aligned to do. It’s not a tagline or an ad campaign,” says Brown. “It’s the purpose for both the company and the brand.”

Growth is a goal for 2014. “We haven’t been on a big development push for several years,” says Brown, “But we’re looking to expand the number of units again.” Expansion is expected in several areas, including standalone units, end- caps and non-traditional units. Arby’s will also ramp up recruitment of new franchisees throughout 2014.

By any metrics, Georgia is a growth opportunity. “We have 86 restaurants in the Atlanta area now,” says Brown. “We have a lot of opportunity for more, including the outward-lying areas of metro Atlanta and roadside locations throughout the state. The Georgia market is a very friendly market for doing business.” He says that with confidence, noting that the company does business in every state in the country except for two (Vermont and Rhode Island).

When determining new locations, the company weighs a number of factors including demographics, market penetration, size of population and cost of media. But ultimately, it comes down to street level, factoring in details like traffic flow and whether or not a drive-through window would fit into that flow. Drive through is 60 percent of Arby’s business, so it’s a big factor.

Arby’s has a “super loyal core” customer base, notes Brown, citing the fact that the restaurant serves “products you can’t get anywhere else.” Demographically, that core group averages 30 to 40 years of age. To expand its market, Arby’s aims to close the perception/reality gap. As underscored by the mystery shopper campaign, “When people do come into our restaurants and try our food, they do like us,” he says. “We need to tell the story of our brand to a broader group. It’s a marketer’s dream, really: We have a great product and need to do a better job of getting the message out.”

Helping End Childhood Hunger with the Arby’s Foundation

Arby’s Foundation was launched in 1986 as a way for Arby’s Restaurant Group, Inc., to give back to the communities it serves. For more than 25 years, it has donated more than $57 million to child-related charities across the U.S. In 2011, the Arby’s Foundation changed its charitable focus to ending childhood hunger in America.

Arby’s Foundation has a strong relationship with Share Our Strength, because it “shares the same mission that we do, and we feel that partnering with them is a way of amplifying our efforts,” says Arby’s CEO Paul Brown. (Arby’s Foundation also works with other organizations targeting childhood hunger.)

“Childhood hunger is a much bigger issue in this country than most people believe,” Brown says. “It’s particularly an issue during summer periods when children don’t have access to school meals.”

Last year, Arby’s Foundation raised more than $3 million. “It’s a significant effort, and that number goes up dramatically each year.”

In 2012, Arby’s Foundation launched the Hungry for Happiness mobile tour, which visits cities across the U.S. with the dual goals to deliver wholesome, fresh meals to children in need and inspire others to join the fight to end childhood hunger. So far, the 30,000-mile tour has visited 45 cities, fed 11,000 kids and donated more than $250,000 in local grants to hunger-fighting organizations. This fall and winter, the Hungry for Happiness truck will visit charities in its corporate hometown of Atlanta.

Does charity impact the bottom line? “I believe it does,” says Brown. “I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to show you the metric, but consumers really like to do business with a company that stands for something they can identify with. In our highly competitive, extremely crowded marketplace, it sets our brand apart and shows that we are doing things other than trying to make money.

“I really do believe that if there’s ever a tie in a consumer’s mind between one brand and another, people like to give their business to a company that is broader. There is a feel-good factor for consumers and also for team members – when they feel good about the company they work for, that makes it to the customer. We have 71,000 team members working with guests 610 million times a year, so if you think about projecting the brand, it helps having motivated, excited and committed team members. One of the most important things you can do as a business is align values around a particular way to make a difference.”


Be a Team Player With Food Safety Education

By Nancy Caldarola

It’s 2014, and it’s looking like restaurants are going to be busy. And while you’ll probably have enough on your plate managing finances, adjusting your menu and possibly considering expansion plans, don’t forget about keeping your employees up to date on food safety education.

Now I am not talking about everyone signing up for a semester-long class, although our local hospitality school and colleges would be very pleased to welcome you to their rosters. I am referring to the many forms of educational offerings that are available today for all levels of hospitality employee. Some of these options are free or very low cost for the knowledge that can be gained.

Ask yourself, “How do I feel after having been away from the restaurant and participating in a workshop at a conference or food show?” What happens when you learn something new? Are you energized when you attend an educational session at the NRA show, or when you participate in a webinar on a subject that impacts your day-to-day business and target market?

If you are like me, you leave the session with a renewed passion for the subject that was covered. You want to get back to work and implement ideas, try new procedures and show that what you heard, saw, and internalized did change your view on the subject. You understand it better, and you know why it is important.

Education for the managers and employees in your foodservice operation can be as simple or as encompassing as you need it to be based upon your specific needs at your business. However, I always like to remember what the late Sy Syms, founder and visionary of the Syms clothing store chain, used to say in their advertisements: “An educated consumer is our best customer, I would like to borrow his statement and change the words a bit for this conversation: “An educated employee is our best customer.”

Why do I say this? Our best customers talk about how great a restaurant you have. They are walking billboards, and we all know that word of mouth and positive social media endorsements are the best marketing you can ever want or get. To get an educated employee, we need to consider what training she or he needs to perform more effectively and efficiently on the job. We need to assess the managerial skills f our supervisory team and consider what developmental programs or tools would help to raise their level of professionalism and performance on the job.

Providing employees with training or professional development opportunities actually infuses the workplace with new ideas and may even lead to creative ways of solving existing or reoccurring problems. Sometimes, just getting your managers and crew out of the day-to-day grind of their everyday work schedule is enough to jump-start new energy and encourage employees to recommit to their jobs and to your restaurant or foodservice location. Most importantly, learning new skills and interacting with new and different people in a focused educational setting has a direct impact on the productivity and development of the work environment.

So what kinds of education will help our managers and our employees? And will it make that much of an impact on the business? There are many forms of education, training and professional development, including instructor-led programs, self-directed online classes, webinars, business book discussion groups, Conference or Expo education workshops or even meeting speakers sponsored by groups like the Georgia Restaurant Association (GRA). Consider the options you have available from the National Restaurant Association Solutions group for education and training:

• The NRA ServSafe® Food Handler training program is an inexpensive course that can be conducted in-house for your hourly employees by an external food safety consultant or your own Certified Food Safety Manager. The two-hour-plus program has class materials, including a Trainer’s script and slides, an inexpensive and easy to understand text in English and Spanish, an exam that the Trainer can administer, and a certificate for each employee completing the session. Not only great for newly hired employees, the program is also an excellent quarterly update or “refresher” for existing crew members.

• Of course we all know the NRA ServSafe® Certified Food Safety Manager program and the requirement that all Georgia food establishments have at least one CFSM on staff at all times. In Georgia, scheduled CFSM classes offered by GRA-approved and NRA-certified instructors are listed at

• The NRA ManageFirst® program is a series of workshops that covers the necessary knowledge
and management competencies for restaurant and foodservice managers. The series includes 10 managerial topics with exams, and participants can earn certificates in each competency. The GRA plans to offer some of these competency workshops in this upcoming calendar year; watch for announcements.

• The NRA ServSafe® Alcohol: Responsible Alcohol Service program covers the essentials of responsible alcohol service. Protect yourself and your operation from risks and liabilities by ensuring all your bartenders, servers and managers complete this alcohol training and certification.

• ServSafe Allergens online course is the newest NRA educational offering. The number of Americans affected by food allergies has been increasing for the past decade, and studies indicate that half the fatal episodes from food allergens typically occur outside the home. Dining out becomes a serious concern for customers with food allergies, as well as for their family and friends. The 15 million Americans with food allergies want to dine where they feel safe, and they are often unsure which restaurants can safely accommodate them—if at all.

The ServSafe Allergens course covers such topics as identifying allergens, communication with the guest, preventing cross-contact, food labels and how to deal with an allergen crisis in your restaurant. Restaurant personnel at all levels – from owner-operator and manager to every employee involved in food preparation, production and service – need to have this basic information required to ensure everyone takes the steps necessary to keep customers safe. In addition to the online course, look for classroom sessions to be offered this coming year through the GRA.

Although this is only a short list of options from one resource, consider implementing or keeping regular training opportunities in place for employees. Training sessions that are once a week or once a month can be quite productive, giving employees something outside the ordinary work day to look forward to and encouraging a commitment to professional development and skill growth.

Online courses, like the new ServSafe AllergensTM, are a cost-effective educational option that works at all employee levels. There are free webinars for managers available through food distribution companies, manufacturers and supplier organizations. Many have additional downloadable archives that employees can access from their smartphones to continue their learning past the formal session.

While most training programs are designed to give employees the tools they need for their jobs, these learning opportunities also keep employees motivated. Sending seasoned employees to training classes helps them stay current with new ideas, procedures and industry developments, plus it can help burned-out employees get back on track and eliminate bored and unproductive attitudes. Including these learning activities in the normal work week of a manager sends a message that, “You are worth it, and we value you.” This can give employees increased job satisfaction because they feel appreciated by their employers.

Using these resources, you, too, can keep education at part of your restaurant or foodservice operation. Training and professional development can make a difference – in improved employee knowledge and performance, in effectiveness and efficiency on the job, in maintaining a food-safe workplace and in motivating and increasing loyalty to the business. Seek out opportunities for staff education – in the long term it really does make a difference!

Nancy Caldarola, Ph.D., RD, is a consultant to the hospitality industry and an active GRA member. Her group, Concept Associates Inc., offers ServSafe® and ManageFirst® classes as well as operations improvement projects, training programs, food safety audits, HACCP, menu engineering and nutritional analysis, and profitability improvement consulting.


Catherall’s FLY Burger Bar Boutique Opens at Airport

Fly Burger, Tom CatheralWith the completion of FLY Burger Bar Boutique, Concessions International (CI) marks the finish of food and beverage renovations at Hartsfield-Jackson’s Concourse B. CI has opened 11 diverse, but locally-rooted concepts there.

Led by Master Chef Tom Catherall, the menu features fresh ingredients like Texas grass-fed organic beef and made-to-order combinations.

Atlanta-based Concessions International, LLC, founded in 1978, is a  food and beverage concessionaire with operations in eight airports. The company’s portfolio includes franchised, licensed and proprietary concepts, including casual dining, quick service, snack, deli and bar and grill. The company is a franchisee of major national brands including Fresh To Order, Seattle’s Best Coffee, and Einstein Bros. Bagels. CI operates Pemberton Café at the World of Coca Cola and a brick-and-mortar Paschal’s in the historic Castleberry district of downtown Atlanta.

Shown in the picture are (left to right):  Jerome Russell President of H.J. Russell & Company; Certified Master Chef Tom Catherall, creator of Fly Burger; Kevin Holt, founder of H & H Hospitality; Miguel Southwell, interim GM ATL, Donata Russell Major, CEO Concessions International; Randy Hazelton, founder of H & H Hospitality; Anthony Joseph, president of Concessions International.


Barberitos Becomes More Eco-Friendly

Barberitos recently announced the  steps the franchise has taken in developing a 0% waste store and becoming more Eco-Friendly.

Starting February 2014, all Barberitos locations began serving refreshments in new, clear polypropylene drink cups that are 100% recyclable. Studies have shown that the recycling of plastics help conserve energy and natural resources.
Barberitos made the decision to switch from foam to plastic cups in an effort to become more green conscious and environmentally friendly.

As for paper, Barberitos uses 100% recycled brown napkins. They have also switched to compostable deli paper and recycled paper to go bags.

Founder and CEO Downing Barber took the intiative even further by introducing composting at his Five Points location in Athens, Ga. Composting has many benefits for the environment, the process helps reduce the amount of air pollution that occurs when disposing of organic scraps.  Compost also improves air quality. A decrease in landfill space is the main reason for the introduction of composting into the store. The franchise has always supported the “Farm to Table” initiative and now would like to continue the cycle by returning the food waste back to the environment to grow new plants.

Barberitos plans to introduce the first 0% waste restaurant in July 2014. They are also looking into more green ways to operate.

Barberitos is a quick service restaurant offering fresh, made in-house food that is customized and made to order.  Burritos, tacos, salads, quesadillas, and nachos are their specialties. Barberitos has 52 signed restaurant locations, 37 of which are open for business in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee, and Florida.


Southern Art Announces Culinary Clash Winner

Southern Art announces the winner of its Culinary Clash event, a cooking competition and scholarship fundraiser for culinary students. Priyanka Charaniya, a student at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts Atlanta, took top honors in the restaurant’s two-night competition held April 14-15. Southern Art awarded a total of $3,750 in scholarships to the competitors, as well as to Le Cordon Bleu Atlanta’s scholarship fund.

Charaniya impressed diners, guest judges and chef de cuisine Keoko Turner with her menu of catfish fritters with chipotle remoulade, barbecued beef cheeks with smoked Gouda grits and spinach and sweet potato mousse with pecan brittle. As the winner, Charaniya will accompany chef Turner to San Francisco on May 15 to compete in the InterContinental® Hotels & Resorts Ultimate Culinary Clash against four other teams from InterContinental properties throughout North America. She will compete for an additional $5,000 in scholarship funds.

Originally from India, Charaniya grew up with a passion for cooking and chose to turn that passion into a career at Le Cordon Bleu. During her time at the culinary college, she has immersed herself in the techniques of the trade as well as the cultural influences on cuisine across the globe. Charaniya draws inspiration from the people and chefs around her and appreciates the many challenges that being a chef presents.

Charaniya was accompanied by sous chef and classmate Justin Beaulieu. Nick Telenta completed the competition in second place, winning scholarship money along with sous chef Mimi Bates.

Southern Art is the Atlanta debut of chef, restaurateur and cookbook author Art Smith and combines a hip, urban eatery with classic Southern charm, offering Southern-inspired cuisine and cocktails in a relaxed atmosphere.


Salt Factory to Open Third Location This Summer

Restaurateurs Hicham Azhari and Fikret Kovac of F&H Food Trading Group and culinary director Bob McDonough have announced the third Salt Factory Pub location and first-ever endeavor in Woodstock, Ga., set to debut mid-summer 2014.

F&H Food Trading Group’s collection of restaurants currently reside on Canton Street in downtown Roswell, Ga., and downtown Alpharetta, Ga., and include the upcoming Real Fix Pizzeria, neighborhood destination 1920 Tavern at OPULENT, New York butcher-influenced Little Alley Steak and Salt Factory Pub Roswell and Alpharetta.

The new Salt Factory in Woodstock will boast an expansive oyster bar and al fresco dining complete with a bocce ball court, in addition to the restaurant’s gastropub fare and beer and spirits menu.


Fox Restaurant Concepts to Open True Food Kitchen in June

Fox Restaurant Concepts will open its first southeastern outpost of True Food Kitchen in Atlanta this June at Lenox Square. With a menu dedicated to simple, seasonal fare and based on an anti-inflammatory diet, True Food Kitchen offers a healthy, holistic dining experience.

Named a 2013 Nation’s Restaurant News “Break-out Brand,” True Food Kitchen has seven additional locations in the Western United States. The restaurant offers globally inspired cuisine including starters, salads, sandwiches, entrees and fresh-squeezed juices, based on Dr. Andrew Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet for optimum health. Tailoring the menu to specific dietary restrictions and allergies, True Food Kitchen offers a wide selection of vegan, vegetarian, organic and gluten-free options, along with dishes for those following a paleo or Mediterranean diet.

The menu draws inspiration from Mediterranean, Asian and traditional American flavors and features ingredients like grass-fed beef, sustainably raised fish and organic dairy and produce. Taking advantage of each season’s best ingredients, the menu rotates to give guests fresh dishes that don’t require added butter, salts or fats for flavor. Unique and nutritionally dense ingredients like sea buckthorn, kale and Anasazi beans are used throughout the menu for their vitamin- and antioxidant-rich properties. Year-round menu favorites include the “inside out” quinoa burger, Panang curry and turkey lasagna.

A full bar serves sustainable, organic or bio-dynamic wines and cocktails made with fresh fruit, honey and other natural flavorings. True Food Kitchen also offers non-alcoholic “natural refreshments” including juice, herb and vegetable blends like “kale-aid” with kale, apple, cucumber, celery, lemon and ginger and “hangover RX” with coconut water, pineapple, vanilla and orange juice. On the wine menu, guests can enjoy a unique bottle of Fox Block, a private wine label series developed by True Food Kitchen sommelier Regan Jasper in partnership with small vineyards. Each year, Jasper picks a different vineyard and produces a unique bottle. This year’s Fox Block Nine is from Melville Winery.

In addition to its healthy dining efforts, True Food Kitchen also strives to be an eco-friendly restaurant. Each location is Green Restaurant Certified and uses compostable take-out packaging and menus printed on paper from renewable resources. The dining room also features chairs made from recycled plastic soda bottles and reclaimed wood floors.

Fox Restaurant Concepts opened its first True Food Kitchen restaurant in Phoenix in 2008, with a menu based on the principals of Dr. Andrew Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet. Today the  eatery has eight locations that are designed to reflect their geographic region and serve globally inspired cuisine and regional, seasonal foods in an upscale, green environment.


3rd Annual Festival Supports The Giving Kitchen

For the third year, Atlanta’s food truck fanatics can experience a day dedicated to food truck fare as the Atlanta Street Food Festival rolls into Piedmont Park on Saturday, July 12, from noon to 8 p.m.

Atlanta’s first and only event dedicated to street cuisine, the Festival has announced that a portion of this year’s proceeds will support the Giving Kitchen, a culinary charity with the unique mission of providing crisis grants to members of Atlanta’s restaurant community facing unanticipated hardship.

More than 40 food trucks, including Champion Cheesesteaks, Yumbii, Ibiza Bites, Mix’d Up, Vietnamies, Angel Fire BBQ and Masala Fresh will gather for the occasion. In addition to street food cuisine, the Festival will feature shopping and a variety of amusement rides for children and adults. Entertainment will be provided by local bands Gritz & Jelly Butter, Latrese Bush, Southland Romeo, Bird City Revolutionaries, Jerry on the Moon and Secondhand Swagger.

New this year, the Atlanta Street Food Festival app is available through the Apple App Store and Google Play. Once downloaded, smart phone users can view featured menus, peruse the entertainment schedule and upload photos of their favorite food truck fare.

Tickets and more information are available online at Atlanta Street Food Festival



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