This has been a continual process for chief operating officer Guy Constant and Red Robin throughout 2019. When the year began, he said, the chain was short more than 100 managers across its 561-unit system.
At Q3’s end, he said, Red Robin was “essentially fully staffed” at the manager level and its turnover numbers were best in class for casual dining. That’s helped crew-level performance, too. “Now, with more fully staffed management teams, we are also able to reduce the churn of managers between locations and provide a better and more stable experience for our team members,” he said. “The resulting benefit is apparent in the progress we have made in hourly turnover numbers which improved, again, in the third quarter as they have throughout 2019, in sharp contrast, we continued deterioration in turnover and staffing metrics seen throughout the industry.”
Constant did not provide exacts for the metrics, only to say turnover closed Q3 “better than casual-dining averages once again.”
Another 2019 focus concerns front-of-house engagement. It’s a direct solution to the wait times, walkways, and cleanliness issues that spiked late last year. Red Robin’s answer: Have managers establish a better presence on the floor and move them to the host end during peak hours.
“The focus is working,” Constant said. “Overall guest satisfaction, which had declined throughout last year to a low point at the end of Q4 2018, has continued to improve throughout 2019 rising, again, to its highest level over three years at the end of the third quarter.”
It’s critical, he added, given where today’s customers are headed, and how challenging it is to drive frequency into a casual-dining setting. Today, brands can’t rely solely on incremental business from guests it wasn’t getting before (delivery). Service is the factor that nurtures engagement and loyalty, he said.
According to the National Restaurant Association, 92 percent of consumers use drive thru at least once a month. And 34 percent deploy delivery more often than a year ago. Close to 90 percent engage with restaurant delivery every month, with 53 percent turning to third party.
Needless to say, crowding a dining room isn’t as clear cut as it once was. It’s why Red Robin couldn’t afford walkaways and why investing in employees for a better customer experience is key to retrial, and keeping loyal customers from flocking elsewhere.
For Constant, it started with the biggest opportunity at hand—already busy periods.
Red Robin worked to shift its labor investment from overstaffed shoulder hours to understaffed peak hours. It’s helped the brand improve throughput when it needs it the most. Turning tables quickly and encouraging customers to progress can be a dicey target sometimes, but doing so at peak is a different story. Constant said the focus helped Red Robin capture “the greater sales opportunity that is available during those times.” And its renewed focus on staffing yielded improvement in Q3 on guest ratings for speed of service, food temperature, and cleanliness, which led to repeat business.
Moving into Q4, Red Robin plans to add labor hours during its busiest shifts to aid off-premises orders coming in, a “decision that will provide residual benefit to our dining experience as well,” Constant said.