In a session entitled, Operations & Strategy: Big Questions for Big Brands at the Food On Demand show, May 4-6 in Las Vegas, we heard from Scott Gladstone, SVP, Strategy & Innovation at Dine Brands, one of the world’s largest full-service dining companies and franchisor of Applebee’s Grill + Bar and IHOP, representing nearly 3,500 locations in 16 countries and two U.S. territories.
Gladstone revealed a few key insights, relevant to restaurants and suppliers alike. Here are my takeaways from his commentary on the panel:
Since Dine Brands are nearly 100% franchised, they have two customers: the franchisee and the guest, which can be challenging when looking through operational filters. Two big areas of focus now are order accuracy and wait times.
Since the brands have been around for a while, Applebee’s was founded in 1980 and IHOP in 1958, some of its franchisees have owned locations for 40-60 years. Building a business case, and trying to explain the benefits can also be challenging.
They’ve rolled out Flybuy Pickup to help improve carside and in-restaurant pickup and delivery, which points back to the goal to to reduce guest and driver wait times. They’ve also tapped SYNQ3 for the call center, both solutions tackle clear pain points for the brand. Referring to Flybuy Pickup, Gladstone said, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure; now we can.”
Gladstone believes virtual brands represent a huge opportunity for casual dining. They’ve partnered with Nextbite for IHOP’s Thrilled Cheese and Super Mega Dilla, and have also launched Cosmic Wings, operating out of Applebee’s kitchens. This move allows them to maximize kitchen output with delivery-only offerings. He also hinted that Flipped on IHOP, a fast casual version of the brand, could show up virtually (stay tuned!). He stressed the level of attention around marketing and operations as mission-critical for virtual brands. Gladstone gave a solid shout-out to Olo for being instrumental in third-party and virtual brand order integration.
Several of Applebee’s new restaurants will include a drive-thru. Applebee’s President John Cywinski was quoted saying there could be about fifteen drive-thru models by the end of this year–both new-builds and conversions and that the brand will “lean-in to them aggressively.”
Applebee’s is also testing Apex pick-up lockers, which help to reduce delivery driver wait times. They are looking into maximizing the physical footprint of the stores in diverse ways.
He believes brands need to adapt and map to the way consumer behavior is changing. With IHOP’s 1700 locations and capacity, he hinted it could become “the biggest ghost kitchen in the industry.”