O’Charley’s isn’t stopping with those two. A concept with burgers that are “huge, multi-layered, and all kinds of crazy stuff on them” is coming soon. Barber says the burgers are so big that he’d have to share it with three people. Although he wasn’t as specific, the CEO noted that a fourth and fifth virtual brand are on the table, as well.
“The really only substantive change is each of these products have such a unique build to them," Barber says. "So instead of just having a bacon cheeseburger from O’Charley’s, This is a bacon cheeseburger, pepper jack fried wedges, onion tanglers, avocado. ... The other piece is, the food when it's delivered doesn't come in O’Charley’s bag. So each brand has its unique logo, unique packaging that doesn't look like it came from O’Charley’s. It's a different format and presentation to the consumer."
Right now the target is to place virtual brands in 145 of the 152 stores nationwide. Barber says O’Charley’s has seven locations that see extraordinary volumes compared to the rest of the fleet, and the company doesn’t want to overwhelm employees. The last thing the CEO wants to see is the core restaurant suffer with the addition of a virtual concept. To give an example of how sensitive O’Charley’s is to this subject, on Mother’s Day—which is a big day for the casual-dining chain—restaurants turned off virtual brands so workers could focus solely on providing a quality dine-in product to guests.
The brand takes the same careful approach whenever it rolls out a new virtual concept. Instead of starting at all 152 locations at the beginning, O’Charley’s places it in roughly 36 stores across the system in different markets to give everyone time to digest and learn through the process. It’s a system that’s worked well thus far.
“It was really just about the sales, leveraging the team with technology and then being unique and trying to stand out,” Barber says. “Our websites are great and have a nice look and feel to them and it's working. And I think that's really the measure of our success is it's working and it's delivering the sales and really high margin sales in the context of you're not building a new store, you haven't invested in new capital, you don't have any more rent, you don't have any more utilities, you have the same crew, the same management in-store. So the incremental margin on those sales is really healthy and helpful as we continue to move forward.”
But don’t get Barber wrong, he still understands the importance of dine-in. Restricted capacities are still hampering sales, but not for much longer. To increase convenience for in-restaurant guests, O’Charley’s instituted QR payments so customers can pay on their phone as opposed to handing their card to a waiter. Barber says the tool has improved table turns 20 to 25 percent, which goes a long way in bringing in more guests despite capacity restraints.
Recent success has given O’Charley’s confidence in the upcoming summer months. Barber says the chain witnessed a “seismic” jump in sales between December and January, and the dollars have kept growing ever since. As more customers receive vaccinations and mask mandates are eliminated, the CEO notes O’Charley’s job is to be ready for the wave of demand, whether it’s through dine-in, virtual brands, or delivery.
“We're mindful that consumers are always going to have a perspective on what we've all been through over the last several 15-18 months, so we're focused on making sure we don't stop or lose our intensity around that while we also stay focused on, let's get to the sales,” Barber says. “It's all about sales for us, and again, sales and staffing are the two things that we know have made the difference and will help us as we go forward.”