The former True Food Kitchen and Smashburger executive is bringing her learnings to the emerging bowling and social dining brand.

With more than a decade in the restaurant and hospitality industry, Christine Ferris is making major moves. Formerly the director of marketing for True Food Kitchen—a chef-driven, upscale restaurant brand with nearly 50 locations—Ferris is now bringing her expertise to Pinstripes, an Italian-American bistro with bowling and bocce. As the brand’s newly announced vice president of marketing, Ferris will help position the 14-unit emerging eatertainment brand as it prepares to go public and expand exponentially across the U.S.

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FSR recently sat down with Ferris to get more details on her backstory, journey to Pinstripes, learnings from serving at True Food Kitchen and Smashburger, priorities for her new role, and where she’ll go from here.

Christine Ferris

What first attracted you to Pinstripes and to this opportunity?

Pinstripes is doing something no one else is. And while the eatertainment category is growing and competition is surfacing quickly, no other brand can boast such an elevated culinary experience alongside gaming.  Pinstripes is a best-in-class experiential dining and entertainment brand that combines timeless games like bowling and bocce with a made-from-scratch culinary offering.  After spending seven years honing my craft as director of marketing for True Food Kitchen, I became inspired by brands with such a large runway for growth. I was first introduced to the opportunity by the former CMO of True Food Kitchen, Shannon Keller, who joined Pinstripes as CMO in September. I knew I wanted to stay in the restaurant and hospitality industry, but was also interested in pursuing something that would challenge me in new ways. In addition to its high growth trajectory, unique approach to innovation, and the infectious energy they bring to each community they live in, I’m a big believer that Pinstripes is going to be the pioneer to push this category in ways it’s never seen before. 

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Can you share how your past experiences at True Food Kitchen, Fox Restaurant Concepts, and Smashburger will inform your approach as new VP of marketing at Pinstripes? 

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to work for some of the fastest-growing, innovative restaurant brands in their categories and while doing so, have had the opportunity to stretch my skills in many different roles on the marketing team. Smashburger provided me a lot of experience working with a brand that was growing incredibly fast; I opened more than 150 restaurants during my time there and developed a dialed-in playbook for opening restaurants and growing sales quickly.  I also directed the public relations and social media strategies which allowed me to develop a deep appreciation for storytelling and brand building across a variety of platforms including digital.  When I joined True Food in 2016, it was one of 16 brands under the Fox Restaurant Concepts umbrella. Learning how to manage and tailor marketing strategies for multiple brands was a key learning for me. After True Food became its own company in 2017, we were in high-growth mode, so my priorities were focused on growing the team and growing sales at both legacy and new locations which included menu innovation, digital innovation, off-premise, local store marketing and brand building. With a keen eye towards growth and performance, I’ll work closely across the Pinstripes organization to shape a marketing strategy powered by the highest-ROI initiatives to ensure we’re moving at the pace of our guests and growing brand awareness nationally and internationally.

What learnings are you bringing with you into the role?

In order to drive Pinstripes forward, we must build a marketing team that is organized for success, now and in the future.  The team must be laser focused on growing our business and driving sales as that’s the ultimate purpose of marketing.  Here’s what’s most important right now—growing brand awareness, innovation in both menu and gaming, a strong local store marketing plan to ensure we’re deeply connected to local community, a streamlined tech stack to ensure we’re making data driven decisions, optimizing our digital strategy, and a test-and-learn strategy to unlock new paths to growth.  

Growth mode for brands is great in a lot of ways but can also bring many challenges. There’s a tremendous amount of time and focus that goes into opening a new restaurant successfully—it’s often a full-time job for many functions across the organization. It’s easy to lose sight of growing sales at existing locations and the key business objectives set forth at the beginning of the year. My number one priority with my team is to get further ahead of key priorities and calendar planning so we have time to focus on both new and existing restaurant needs. 

Innovation and curiosity in our space is imperative due to the competitive nature of the industry. My experience has taught me that it’s easy to get stuck in the day-to-day tasks and annual calendar of promotions, quickly moving from one thing to the next without taking a deeper look at what’s trending, what other brands are doing to innovate, and ultimately how your brand is being perceived in today’s world. What’s always worked in the past won’t necessarily work in the future. 

Local store marketing has been at the forefront of much of my career, whether I was building plans and executing or overseeing the larger strategy. I’ve seen great success in my past with developing a brand-wide local store marketing “toolkit” that field teams can utilize and reference for ideas to activate inside and outside their four walls. I plan to implement a similar playbook while also working with my team to create tailored marketing plans for each market based on the venue’s opportunities for growth/improvement and needs of the surrounding target market.

A highly effective tech stack is key to success in today’s world (we all know this). I’ve had the opportunity to be at the forefront of digital innovation throughout my career and have learned a lot in the process, specifically when it comes to launching new loyalty programs, CRM databases, online ordering platforms, reservation systems, branded apps and more. Pinstripes has a fantastic tech stack already implemented, and my goal is to utilize the existing infrastructure while making small improvements to the way we’re analyzing the data to inform our strategy. 

Another key learning is ensuring there is a close pulse on our marketing spend and optimizing where needed to capture the best ROI. Overseeing the brand-wide marketing budget gave me insight into where, how and when we’re spending dollars and how to review the metrics with clean data to produce an accurate narrative for performance. I’ll be taking a deep dive into our spend at Pinstripes as well as the creative across channels and will pivot as needed to optimize our results.

One of my biggest accomplishments at True Food was launching a new catering program that brought in incremental dollars to offset traffic declines post-COVID. I’d love to take that similar mindset here at Pinstripes and see where we can bring more dollars to the bottom line with little budget required. Catering, third-party delivery, and other off-premises revenue streams are definitely on the horizon for opportunities to explore.

Customers enjoying their time at Pinstripes.
Pinstripes has 14 locations in the U.S.

What will your key priorities be for Pinstripes? What are your marketing goals for the brand as it grows and aims to go public? 

Pinstripes is at a strategic inflection point of substantial growth and is well-positioned to capitalize on the exciting dining and entertainment trends in the global marketplace. Our key marketing objectives as the company aims to go public include:

  1. Growing sales and traffic at our 14 flagship locations by deploying a new strategic local store marketing and brand ambassador program in each market. 
  2. Opening six new restaurants in 2024 with the strongest-ever first-year sales. 
  3. Building brand awareness in both existing and new markets with local and national media by implementing a new PR strategy and launching new partnerships. 
  4. Better know our guests by utilizing data from our CRM and loyalty program to tailor messaging and offers based on guest wants and needs. 
  5. Optimize our digital marketing strategy and promotional calendar to grow leads, traffic and sales.

Any challenges you foresee? With only 14 current locations open, what is your strategy for increasing name brand recognition as it heads into new markets?

Although we’re pioneers in the dining meets entertainment category, there are more competitors clamoring for a share of consumer’s time and wallet.  Our unique offering and continuous innovation allows us to remain at the forefront of the competition, but we remain hyper aware of what everyone in the space is doing.  Our public transaction will allow us to expand our footprint more rapidly and will hopefully bring more national attention to our growing brand.  

We’ll continue to use a multi-channel and targeted marketing strategy to drive awareness and revenue across brandwide and local marketing.  Digital marketing will also continue to play an important role in reaching our target audience and grow engagement.

As everyone in the restaurant industry knows… you have to change the wheels on the bus while also keeping the engine running (and not crashing while you’re at it) … It’s not an easy job. We’re confident we’ll be able to meet the challenge with a strong team and partners in place to support.

Why do you think the Pinstripes concept and model is optimized for growth?

Pinstripes is a founder-led, profitable and scalable concept with a large runway for growth.  

I believe we’re just now getting started even though our proven model has been around for 17 years. Consumers continue to seek out experiences and connections worth coming back for—and that’s exactly what Pinstripes provides. Our spaces are warm and welcoming with great music and ambiance, our Italian-inspired cuisine is all made-from-scratch and satisfies any palate, our gaming areas offer exciting spaces to bowl or play bocce and we have massive spaces where you can celebrate life’s most special, extravagant moments. The best part for us is watching people come into our venues with a smile on their face, excited to indulge in food, drinks, and fun … that’s where the magic strikes.

Is there anything else FSR readers should know about you, or what direction Pinstripes is heading?

I’m incredibly excited about this opportunity to watch the brand grow to the next level and feel fortunate to be a part of the “Pinfamily.”  The fact that so many people on this team have been with the brand for 10+ years speaks volumes to the culture, the vision and the mission.  I’m excited to be part of the growth as I know the best is yet to come.

Casual Dining, Chain Restaurants, Feature, Pinstripes