“The numbers behind our redesigned restaurants, menu, and franchise development plans put Boston’s in a position for growth through franchising in order to be America’s best sports restaurant,” said Jeff Melnick, Boston’s president, in a statement. Melnick joined Boston’s last April. He’s a 40-year-plus industry vet who spent 18 years with Chili’s, starting as a manger and ending as regional director of operations in Southern California, responsible for 78 restaurants. He also served as senior vice president of operations at Red Robin, and, most recently, held the position of vice president of CraftWorks Restaurants & Breweries Inc., where he was brand leader of the Gordon Biersch concept.
In the back half of 2018, Boston’s sales grew 0.9 percent over the prior year, the company said. It said it expects to grow unit count by 30 percent every year for the next three in the U.S., including six new restaurants in 2019—five of which will be in fresh markets. That would be followed by a projected nine and 12 stores, respectively, in the coming years, which would put Boston’s on a fast track to double its U.S. footprint.
The company doesn’t lack size or brand equity in Canada, where it has 400-plus locations. Boston’s has annual total systemwide sales north of $1 billion, including Mexico restaurants. The concept was introduced to the U.S. in 1998 and has seen its share of up-and-downs. Back in 2013, Boston’s had 40 restaurants. It started to shrink after looking into locations and addressing real estate and demographic missteps, the company said at the time. In May 2017, it rolled out a brand refresh at its U.S. stores, repositioning them as “America’s Sports Restaurant,” and placing a stronger emphasis on core products. This included a new company logo and decision to closer align with its Canadian powerhouse counterpart.
Things started to turn around in 2017 when the brand closed the year with 33 franchise agreements signed.
The power of menu changes
The current size of the company is another factor that played into developing a new menu. Boston’s is at a point in the U.S. where change doesn’t seem burdensome, Garner says. Brands that have hundreds of units have less wiggle room to innovate and implement changes systemwide.
“We’re at a size right now where we can we can choose who we want to be, how we want to grow and how we wish to operate and service our guests or service our franchisees,” Garner says. “That's an exciting place to be in versus stepping into a situation where, just due to the sheer scale of the business, those types of decisions can become exponentially more challenging and [expensive].”
The dough-centric menu launched at Boston’s two corporate restaurants in February and in the franchise advisory council locations at the beginning of April. Garner expects the new menu to rollout nationwide in June. Until then, the company is analyzing feedback of what is working and what needs to be perfected before it becomes available at all 22 locations.
So far, feedback has been positive. Food costs at the locations where the new menu launched are already going down, Garner says. The costs won’t dramatically decrease overnight, but franchisees will see incremental changes over time.
“Boston’s is absolutely committed to the franchise model,” Garner says. “For us to say that we have to do more than, say it, we actually have to live that every day. This menu has been a strong nod to that idea. We collaborated in a way that most brand, quite honestly, would probably be uncomfortable with collaborating. But there’s value in that and we believe that through that collaboration we’re going to get to a better place than we would have gotten by pushing.”
Menu innovation will continue to play a major role moving forward. Competition in the pizza segment continues to accelerate and Garner feels the new menu will give Boston’s an advantage when it comes to attracting guests. Small menu changes weren’t going to cut it.
“Too many times there are menu acrobatics that take the place instead of true menu innovation and guests are savvy to that,” Garner says. “Guests understand when you just rearrange the chairs and called it different. So our guests are sharp savvy consumers. Our franchise partners are experienced professionals, and our crewmembers who do this day in, day out, they expect improvement in the food. We came to a point where our menu had grown a little bit stale. We needed to make a bold and significant change rather than minor tweaks.”