Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill has more than doubled its off-premises business since 2020, added four virtual brands, and added its first drive-thru in 2022. Yet, the emerging NextGen Casual brand is focused on staying true to its meat-forward menu with unique options at a casual-dining price point.
In an interview with FSR, Smokey Bones COO and newly-named president Hal Lawlor gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into his plans to streamline operations with savvy tech, kick off catering, and more.
How have you seen the brand evolve since 2019?
In the last four years, we honed in on our core values; we really did some great work around positioning who we are in terms of what do we want to represent as a restaurant company. We can do what no other brand can do. Everyone can have a bar, everybody can cook a steak, everyone can serve a pasta dish, but we’ve got these amazing smokers we can do such creative things [with]. And so we really embraced meat is what we do, and we can do it in ways that others can’t, and so that’s our unique space.
What new tech has been implemented recently?
One of the things that we brought in this past year was a platform to help us with reservations, with dining room management, and frankly, bringing real order to the dining room. We’ve also brought in some labor management and forecasting tools to equip managers to more effectively deploy labor, and looking ahead at their business, we brought in additional resources in the back of house as well as around kitchen displays, and really focusing in on takeout execution.
We’re going to continue to look forward—we’re looking at other aspects around order taking [and] around payment options. We’re also continuing to look at training capabilities through technology.
Any other changes to come?
We operate four additional virtual brands out of every restaurant; we’ve got the Wing Experience, Burger Experience, Bowl Market, and Tender Box. We’re trying to appeal to a broad segment, especially as we launch catering. We are standing up a pretty significant catering platform. Currently, catering is not a huge portion of our business, but in the barbecue space, it’s a very significant catering option, so that’s really some untapped territory for us. And by offering some virtual brands, we can appeal to some clients and consumers on the catering side and offer different variety without it being the same menu.
What does the brand’s growth plan look like?
We’ve looked at where we would be viable, and we’ve identified quite a few locations across the country. Our immediate focus is streamlining the executional component and focusing in on hospitality and service, and growth is absolutely in our future. We opened two restaurants last year, and we’ve remodeled a couple, and now we took a pause to focus in on executional improvements and some opportunities that we’ve identified, and then we will revisit the growth strategy in probably mid-2024.