Could this be a peek inside the future?
Smokey Bones has begun the process of adding a fully equipped, all-digital drive-thru lane to a restaurant in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Unlike some other options in the casual space, the 61-unit barbecue brand didn’t simply open a window for access and offer added convenience for pickup orders. By all measures, this will look, and operate, like a high-tech drive-thru you’d see on a quick-service restaurant, complete with digital order confirmation, high-quality audio, dedicated staff, and menus tailored for speed, including the chain’s virtual concepts in tangible form.
CEO James O’Reilly, who once served as CEO of Long John Silver’s, spoke with FSR about the initiative, how it’s evolving, and why this might just unlock a new era at the classic brand.
Take us to the concept phase.
When we think about purposeful occasion design in next-generation casual dining, to me it means evolving the design of our business so we’re better meeting the needs of our guests for all the different opportunities. And so, for us, it started in 2019 when we began redesigning our asset so it could be more off-premises friendly, with dedicated spaces.
And then everything that happened through the pandemic, with the launch of our virtual brands and realizing these dedicated off-premises spaces in our two new restaurants that we have under construction right now, it all looks very encouraging to us. Drive-thru was a natural extension of that thought process. With a strong brand like Smokey Bones, ensuring we deliver the essence of the brand in each of these experiences will ultimately underpin the success of the drive-thru.
Smokey Bones stands for, of course, being a “protein candy store” and having the most amazing selection of meats and proteins for our guests, no matter how they want them, and having incredible people to take care of our guests and provide them great experiences, regardless of what kind of experience they want to have. The preparation for the drive-thru has sloped from that thought process.
We have very engaging general managers and [Bowling Green GM] Casey Turner is a perfect example of someone who lives in the community, who knows her guests, and who provides great experiences. She’s a guest experience fanatic. And regardless of channel, this is the absolute recipe for a great restaurant team, and for great experiences.
Now, an extension of Casey’s leadership for the drive-thru will be drive-thru trained employees, because it’s important for the guest who comes into this location with very preset expectations of what a drive-thru experience ought to be, functionality, at least. So we’ll be hiring and training people with dedicated experience. People who have worked in drive-thrus. People who know drive-thrus. So we’re ensuring that we combine the very best of what a drive-thru experience can be with the very best of what a Smokey Bones experience can be.