The president and COO of FAT Brands’ Casual Division shares the growing company's 'secret sauce.'
Hurricane Grill & Wings is a 28-year young brand that offers our guests an escape from the daily grind in a coastal setting that offers everyone the ability to kick back, relax, and enjoy great food and cocktails. We recently celebrated our 25th anniversary (a bit late due to the pandemic) by bringing back some original menu items, cocktails, music, and party atmosphere of the 90s. Going retro for a few weeks was a great way to celebrate the Big 2-5 with our guests.
At Hurricane Grill and Wings, we are known for our sauces—36 sauces and rubs, to be exact, all offering the guest a huge variety of flavor profiles. While typically applied to wings and tenders, our guests apply these flavors to virtually everything on the menu, especially our 37th “sauce.” This special sauce is not marketed, merchandised, or sampled at the table. The secret sauce I am referring to is a critical part of our DNA. We call this sauce the three E’s—Experience, Engagement, and Energy.
While this has always been part of our operating philosophy since the first Hurricane Grill & Wings location opened in Fort Pierce, Florida, coming out of the pandemic we realized just how important It is to our guest base given the need to socialize, feel rewarded and overall return to a normal life.
The most important and foundational piece of our recipe is Experience. Part of what makes Hurricane’s experience so special is the escapism we provide. As soon as you step into our restaurant, you are transported. For the anniversary celebration, we were playing into the fact that many of our current core customers grew up in the eighties and nineties. So, during the anniversary, not only were we transporting them to the beach, but also to the good old days. We tapped into 90s looks from a graphic standpoint, 90s music, fan-favorite dishes, and the overall rise of big-wave riding in the 90s.
On a similar note, Engagement at Hurricane’s means two different things. First, the personal engagement when you come into restaurants—being greeted, our servers coming to see you and getting to know you—not just taking your order. We strive for a more personalized exchange, more like making a 60-minute friendship.
The other side of engagement is simulated – how we interact with our guests through our marketing materials. This end-goal of this experience has changed dramatically over the past three years. Immediately following the pandemic, we engaged using messaging that gave the guest confidence they could return to a safe social setting to enjoy the food they craved. Once the pandemic slowed, we generated additional reasons to visit that made their trips to Hurricane special. This meant sharing deals on value days, giving away prizes, and highlighting interesting stories and people, among other things.
We also leveraged our broad e-commerce approach and ramped up our digital, social, email and text communications. This includes targeting our younger audiences, who were not around in 1995 when we launched.
Through Experience and Engagement, you build positive Energy. When you’ve been working all day, you need a boost, guests want to be uplifted when they come into the restaurant. We strive to be reliable providers of that energy. A visit to our restaurant isn’t just a transaction. Our goal is always to provide an energetic environment that leaves the guest saying, “Wow, I had a great visit.” Now that consumers are spending more time planning their nights out, we must provide a reason to come see us other than just a cold beer and great wings.
By focusing on the three E’s we continue to attract our loyal customers and gain new ones. While providing an Experience coupled with Engagement and Energy seems like a simple formula for success, it can be easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and lose sight of the bigger picture. While we are fortunate to have weathered the challenges that COVID presented, it left an indelible mark on how restaurants operate; that is where the 3 E’s have come into play for us in an increasingly competitive space. Fast forward 25 years from now, and we will still be riding that wave.
Gregg Nettleton serves as president and COO of the Casual Division for global restaurant franchising company, FAT Brands Inc., and is responsible for overseeing the strategic direction of Hurricane Grill & Wings, Native Grill & Wings, Buffalo’s Cafe and Ponderosa and Bonanza Steakhouses.