But don’t get Johnston wrong. Off-premises is a small piece of business, and it will remain that way. The Melting Pot knows what its strength is, and it will continue to take advantage of it. To attract more guests to the dining room and ease the pressure on weekends, The Melting Pot team pushed promotions that boost weekday traffic. A few weeks prior to the onset of the pandemic, the brand introduced Thursdate, which offers a four-course menu featuring artisan cheese fondue, fresh salad, a premium entrée, and Sparkling Chocolate Fondue. Johnston says the program was “enormously successful” at lifting weekday sales. Melting Pot is also launching a promotion called Best Fondue Friends Forever on Wednesdays.
“I also think that that for a period of time—although I think this will maybe change a little bit—customers were a little bit more okay with the idea of celebrating a special occasion on a weekday, as opposed to saving it up for a weekend because weekdays kind of resembled weekends when you're working at home, right?” Johnston says. “That environment will change when people go back to more ordinary work schedules and environments, I think. So we hedged against that by creating these programs to sustain the heavy weekday sales as long as possible.”
With sales trending positively and guests returning in droves, The Melting Pot witnessed a flurry of interest in unit development for both new builds and conversions. The pipeline of franchise leads is up three times compared to pre-pandemic figures. Johnston says it hasn’t translated into many deals yet, but he expects a number of new stores to be in development soon in some of The Melting Pot’s target markets like Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.
Beyond improving sales and traffic, Johnston says potential franchisees are attracted to The Melting Pot because of customers' affinity for the brand. He adds the chain has a great connection with the consumer, almost on an emotional, cult-like level. The CEO also believes many operators and executives have found themselves in a situation that is a little less certain than last year, and many are looking for ways to control their destiny through ownership.
“It's one of the points of pride for me is to think about all of the people who have stepped into a role of ownership as a Melting Pot franchisee over the course of the last 35 years that I've been involved with the brand,” Johnston says.
Enticing operators even more is the fact that The Melting Pot is undergoing a remodeling process. Johnston describes the transformation as “making fondue sexy.” The brand is retaining all of its brand pillars of an interactive and fun environment where you’re focused on the people you’re with, but with higher energy, updated interiors, more irreverence, and less stuffiness. Clever slogans are displayed throughout, such as “cheese and chocolate fixes everything” or “I know it may sound cheesy, but you look good,” on the women’s bathroom mirror.