JINYA Ramen Bar bowl of food.
Waffle at Another Broken Egg Cafe.
Snooze, an A.M. Eatery.
Huckleberry's Breakfast and Lunch.
Huckleberry's Dining Room.
Bartaco’s QR Code Menus have Unlocked Labor Efficiencies In Myriad Ways
Amid Growth, Snooze Remains Committed To ESG Initiatives
Live Music At THRōW Social
Huckleberry's Dining Room.
How Snooze An AM Eatery Recruits Employees And Keeps Them  Engaged
Throw Social.
Firebirds Wood Fired Grill Cocktails
JINYA Ramen Bar Food
Cornhole At THRōW Social
Huckleberry's Mississippi Skillet.
Firebirds Wood Fired Grill NY Strip with Crispy Shrimp.
JINYA Ramen Bar.
Bartaco’s QR Code Menus have Unlocked Labor Efficiencies In Myriad Ways
Firebirds Wood Fired Grill Exterior
Outdoor Seating At A JINYA Ramen Bar Location
THRōwl Social Cocktail
Signature Cocktails Raise The Firebirds’ Experience Up Another Notch
A Bowl From JINYA Ramen Bar
<p>The location is the first Another Broken Egg Cafe for Luis Romero, an experienced restaurant operator of LR Food Corporation. </p>
Firebirds Wood Fired Grill
JINYA Ramen Bar's Red Garnet Bowl.
Cai Palmiter.
THRōw Social Food Dish
Dart Throwing At THRōW Social
Huckleberry's Cajun Benedict

The future of full service

We asked NextGen Casual brand leaders (what is NextGen Casual? We have you covered!) to share their best tips and tricks for growth, leadership, marketing, and finance. Following is your ultimate guide to operating a successful restaurant and building a brand identity that resonates with loyal guests and new customers.

Best Practices for Growth

How to scale a brand nationally:

We’re opening 17 cafes this year, and that takes a lot of communication. Getting prepared to continue to scale [involves[ systems, automations and technology, and implementing more tools that enable us to scale more efficiently. Something we’re certainly looking at are some of the manual, laborious things we have historically relied on, we’ve started to look at what that looks like when we add 20 more cafes, 50 more, and still making the technology manageable for the system.

—Brandy Blackwell, VP of marketing, Another Broken Egg Cafe

Clearly define your “WHY” and stay true to who you are. You cannot allow your growth to change why you started in the first place. When you scale, allow your “WHY” to guide your decisions. Like a compass, it will always point you in the right direction.

Determine the right markets. Understand your segment, your guest, and what you offer, and ensure that you are growing in markets that meet those needs.

Tell your story. In every new market, you have guests that don’t know who you are and what you stand for. Make sure your four-wall marketing plan tells your story effectively.

— Jeremy Edmonds, VP of people and culture, Snooze, an A.M. Eatery

Begin with the end in mind. That means pouring time, energy, and resources into building the foundation for rapid and expansive growth. In our case, we spent 18 months foundation building with Huckleberry’s Breakfast and Lunch before growing a single unit. Things to consider are: engineering the menu for ease of execution and purchase predictability, finding vendor partners that either have a national footprint or the capability to do so, ensuring you have a solid distribution network, clearly defining your brand deliverables, understanding your consumer, developing a robust social platform, and gathering the right talent to grow the organization.

— Greg Graber, CEO/founder, Heritage Restaurant Brands

Scaling a restaurant brand nationally is a complex and challenging endeavor, but it can be achieved with careful planning, resources, and a solid strategy. Below are a few thoughts and considerations I would recommend on how to do that:

  1. Your concept must be well-defined, unique, and have a strong identity that sets it apart from competitors.
  2. Ensure you research + analyze the market to understand your target audience, competition, and market trends, and focus on locations for expansion first that you have intimate knowledge with.
  3. You need some standard operation procedures to ensure brand consistency and expectation from your guests in regards to the menu, service, culinary operations, etc.
  4. Talent! You need a team that not only believes in the brand, but can help you replicate the culture and environment of your initial restaurant(s).
  5. Set up a robust supply chain and distribution network to ensure consistency and quality of ingredients.
  6. Location selection is key. Go where you know to ensure there is confidence in the surrounding market. Then take your enterprise demographics and details to select key sites across the country from there.
  7. Strong tech stack. You need to have customizable and scalable systems across all departments to ensure you are set up for scalability and streamlining operations while tracking performance.
  8. Guest Feedback + Adaption: you need to constantly be thinking guest-first and listening to what your guests are telling you about your business and also understand the markets you plan to enter. Every market is a bit different in terms of staff, guests and overall operations. The more you listen, the stronger and faster you can grow.
  9. Community Involvement. This is key—not being another “chain” restaurant and truly being a part of each community in design, decor, and overall support for the local neighborhoods. This is a fun and crucial element of entering new markets.
  10. Sustainability + Corporate Responsibility consideration. What is the brand image, and as you scale and you have a wider guest base as well as larger impact, how do you want to make the world a better place?

— Anthony Valletta, president, bartaco

How to select prime real estate:

First you have to define what “prime real estate” is for your specific brand. Start with knowing your guest base, their traffic patterns, and their purchasing habits. Know what the site-specific needs are in relation to your brand.  We are a breakfast and lunch concept, so daytime traffic and strong retail presence is a must. A dinner house may focus more on the number of evening rooftops around the site. Not all sites fit all brands. Buildout and ongoing unit economics have to be factored in with rising construction costs and lease rates. Having a formula to figure franchisee ROI on a site is extremely beneficial when selecting a site. Each site has to be looked at individually as there are few “cookie cutter” options in full service.

— Greg Graber, CEO/founder, Heritage Restaurant Brands

There is no silver bullet here. There are great analytics and tools you can use to narrow down your site location or help you focus on certain trade areas/cities of the country, but none of them will be perfect. You have to go to the site and see the crowd, see if your guests are there and how they interact with the existing environment. Understanding co-tenancy and ensuring it aligns with your brand, because who you are next to or in a center with tells your guests about your brand—both good and bad. There is a gut feeling to great real estate, but institutional and local knowledge is the largest benefit, so do your research and tap into your resources about the local areas and what locations truly stand for.

— Anthony Valletta, president, bartaco

Best Practices for Leadership

How to manage your team (both support staff and store level):

Dynamic + adjustable are the key tactics I would suggest here. We are managing the largest range of generations in the history of the workforce; everyone has different needs and wants. The key is to ensure you have an environment where people can speak freely, and that you are asking the appropriate questions about their personal and professional goals and aspirations so that you can constantly tailor custom approaches to every leader in your organization. The days of a one shop plan are over—customization, empathy, and flexibility are the imperative future of how to manage great performing teams.

—Anthony Valletta, president, bartaco

Leadership starts with understanding who you are and how you want to lead. Define your values, your style, and your personal brand. I always ask leaders, “When one of your employees looks back on their time with you, HOW do you want to be remembered?” That answer must guide your behaviors and the norms you set with your team.

Learning to truly listen to your team is the most underrated leadership skill. Truly listening means you aren’t forming your response when someone is talking, you are empathetic to all perspectives, you remove judgment, shame, and blame from the conversation, and you always seek to understand.

Authentically recognize, celebrate, and show gratitude to your team. Try the 10-penny trick: put 10 pennies in your right pocket at the start of your day. Every time you genuinely show gratitude, appreciation, or recognize someone on your team, move a penny to your left pocket. You will find it is not as easy as you think. Master 10, then move to 15, 20, 25. Gratitude is the most powerful tool in a leaders’ toolbelt.

— Jeremy Edmonds, VP of people and culture, Snooze, an A.M. Eatery

Communication, communication, communication! Holding weekly meetings with clear conveyance of expectations from corporate to the store level is critical. The true key to managing a team is follow up; ensuring they are given time to complete the task, then following up to make sure the task is completed to our satisfaction. Another method we utilize is setting the expectations from the beginning. It is easier to set the standards during the training process than to make changes down the road (most employees don’t react well to change).

—Robert Sweers, COO, The Ginger Brands (THRōW Social, Kick Axe Throwing)

You manage things but you LEAD people. The primary aim for each position in the organization is to either directly serve our guests or serve those who serve our guests.  That’s it. No matter the position, the goal is for all to understand their role in the process. That requires a concerted effort to ensure all team members throughout the organization understand what we are all about, what’s important to us, and how their contribution fits within the whole thing. It gives them a sense of “purpose,” not just “function.” If there’s a breakdown in communication or lack of clear deliverables, we, as leaders, first have to look in the mirror to see what we can do differently in order to paint a clearer picture.

— Greg Graber, CEO/founder, Heritage Restaurant Brands

Best practices for decreasing turnover and creating upward mobility:

Our data shows there are three main motivators which drive retention—your manager, the impact you have (on the employee, their family, your guest; and, if core to your values, your community and the planet), and recognition. Build programs that enhance the skills of your managers, and they lead effectively, they will ultimately develop your team. Developing your team is the greatest way to demonstrate impact. When you have the systems and programs in place to recognize your staff, you build cultures that last.

I like to think of retention this way:  (C5 + O) x I = engagement. And ultimately, engagement equals better retention.

  • Culture is built through 5 main practices:
    • It starts with understanding WHO YOU ARE – your mission, vision, values, and beliefs.
    • Then, you build the behaviors and norms that support those behaviors.
    • Design and implement the programs, systems, tools and processes that support those behaviors and norms.
    • This allows your employees to create experiences and write the stories that make up your culture.
    • Celebrate your culture.
  • Operational Excellence is the foundation:
    • Let who you are be your “North Star.”
    • Be the best of the best.
    • Lead with a fail forward mentality.
  • Then, determine the ways in which you want to impact your team:
    • Develop and grow your talent.
    • Create benefits and perks programs that enhance the experience and takes care of your employees and their families.

And, in Snooze’s case, we found the more you give back to your communities and planets, the more engaged our teams become.

—Jeremy Edmonds, VP of people and culture, Snooze, an A.M. Eatery

Key is hiring and training the right individuals. This will continue to be hospitality’s biggest issue in the future. The pandemic forced most of the hospitality field’s greatest employees to remote jobs. We need to be even more selective in our hiring process and make sure we execute our training program to the highest level. We require new employee applicants to take a MAP personality assessment that gives both their Meyers-Briggs and DiSC scores to help us evaluate whether they are a good fit for the position. We also give our employees clear and achievable goals so they can grow within our company. We identify leaders and set them on a growth pattern where we promote from within and build a bench for our future locations.

—Robert Sweers, COO, The Ginger Brands (THRōW Social, Kick Axe Throwing)

Best Practices for Marketing

How to come across as genuine:

If a brand remains true to their core values and is consistent with those values in restaurant, and online, your marketing efforts will shine through as genuine. When you try to be everything to everybody, or go off brand, you risk losing your credibility. Know what is important to your guests, what draws them to your brand, and make connections with them through those shared values.

— Christine Lorusso, senior director of digital marketing, Firebirds Wood Fired Grill

Coming across as genuine involves being authentic, sincere, transparent, and vulnerable. Being genuine is about fostering authentic connection with others. It is all about being true to yourself, learning how to look back, and practicing gratitude and appreciation of where you came from while respecting others in the process.

— Cai Palmiter, VP of marketing, JINYA Holdings

As a brand marketer, my job is walking the tightrope of balancing how we express the brand authentically and consistently while also finding ways to stretch outside our comfort zone. The ways that brands engage and connect with guests continue to evolve, and it is important to shift the brand strategy accordingly. With these brand strategy shifts, it’s important to look back at the brand pillars to ensure we are staying true to who we are as a brand. Coming across as genuine comes down to being authentic, consistent in adhering to the brand pillars, while also identifying opportunities to shift brand strategy to meet the demands of an evolving landscape of how guests engage with and consume their favorite brands.

— Anna Greenberg, director of marketing, bartaco

One of the easiest ways for your restaurant or brand to come across as genuine is to tell your story. Who are the founders? What is their background? What made them want to open a restaurant or bar in the first place? What made them select the type, style, or theme of the restaurant? Most founders genuinely just want to provide an amazing place for people to enjoy, escape, and receive excellent service. Let this shine through in the story.

Get a little personal … reveal a bit about their childhood, their interests, what led them to this point, and what they enjoy doing now. This can all be included on a separate page on the website, and you can provide links to their personal social media accounts on the brand’s accounts.

Another way to show how genuine you are is for the brand to become a part of the community where your locations are based. Participate in local events, donate to charitable endeavors, or host them yourself. Demonstrate that you care about the community that your guests are a part of.

Exhibiting that your brand cares about the environment by using sustainable methods wherever possible also shows you that you care about more than simply profits. Simple changes like using biodegradable drinkware and cleaning agents can go a long way. Let this be known on your website and in some of your marketing and socials.

As part of the ongoing marketing, include info from or about the founder every now and then, showing that they are involved and care about the brand; share when you participate in community activities and donate to events; and highlight how you are doing your best to lower your impact on the environment

All of these methods will make your guests feel as though they truly know your brand and the people involved, giving them a connection that makes them proud to patronize you.

— Ginger Flesher Sonnier, Owner/CEO, The Ginger Brands (THRōW Social, Kick Axe Throwing)

The best way to come across as genuine is to BE genuine. That requires a true sense of brand, and an understanding of how that translates to guest experience in the restaurants. Not overpromising real restaurant deliverables is a part of being genuine.  Food shots that reflect what’s on the plate is a great example here. Brand personality needs to thread through everything we do…website to social to physical menu to tabletop POP to uniforms to décor…all need to have the same temperament and similar characteristics. The best way to do this is to articulate your points of differentiation in what I would call the 3 pillars of restaurant experience:

Food: We call ours Southern Cookin’ With a California Twist, and that gives us direction when it comes to R&D.

Ambiance: What’s different or notable about your place? Ours is reminiscent of a Mississippi Bayou.

Service Style or Expectations: What can guests expect? We call ours Southern Hospitality. You can get “service” from any ATM, but you can only get “hospitality” through a real,  personal connection. There is no substitute for a genuine team member with a desire to make lasting memories for a guest. Even AI can’t do that…remember the first word in AI is “Artificial.” There’s no substitute for human-to-human connection in full-service dining.

—Greg Graber, CEO/founder, Heritage Restaurant Brands

How to manage social media in today’s age:

In the ever-changing world of social media, one thing remains most important: content. Creating content specific for each platform is the best way to ensure that you reach your KPIs. If the copy and media is designed for the audience that lives on that platform, you will always see higher engagement, reach, click thrus, etc.

—Christine Lorusso, senior director of digital marketing, Firebirds Wood Fired Grill

Social media is a dynamic space. In today’s age, effective use of social media is crucial for personal branding, networking, and staying connected with a wider audience. Defining your purpose and being authentic and consistent matters. It is also important to know your audience, engage with them and create an emotional connection that creates a lasting impact for your brand. Remember what works today might not work tomorrow; adapt based on what works best for your goals and audience. Learn from these experiences.

—Cai Palmiter, VP of marketing, JINYA Holdings

Social media is an extension of the brand. While it’s important to deliver the brand voice and creative identity consistently, it’s also important to remember that social media is a medium of entertainment. When planning our editorial calendar, we consider: will this content be entertaining for our audience? Will this content strike up engagement? Engagement is the king metric. Instagram is no longer a platform where aesthetically-pleasing photos with aesthetically-pleasing copy to match are guaranteed to perform. How do we grab the attention of our audience and get them to engage? For example, we shared a simple meme-style post asking our guests what they’d like to see back on our menus, and it is one of our highest-engaged posts in our brand’s lifetime. Gear your social media strategy toward engaging your audience, and you’ll see it reflect in the KPIs and overall brand loyalty.

—Anna Greenberg, director of marketing, bartaco

How to stay true to brand DNA in marketing:

Guests become loyal to a brand, and if you shy too far away from who you are, you risk losing them. At Firebirds, we have evolved over the years in regard to brand colors, store prototypes, fonts, logos—but at the heart of our brand is good food cooked over an authentic, wood fire grill. You will still find elements such as fire and wood across our digital channels, as well as in the restaurant; these elements are in our DNA and will always be the center of our brand.

—Christine Lorusso, senior director of digital marketing, Firebirds Wood Fired Grill

Staying true to brand DNA in marketing requires these two things that I have been focused on practicing: authenticity and consistency. These two characteristics will help in building a strong and recognizable brand in the market. One can only achieve authenticity if they live and breathe the core values, know the brand voice and identity of the brand. It is critical to be adaptable to new trends and technologies if it is aligned with the brand’s core identity. However, never compromise the brand’s integrity for short-term gains.

—Cai Palmiter, VP of marketing, JINYA Holdings

Staying true to brand DNA starts with defining the brand DNA. What is our “why?” Why do we do what we do? Yes, we serve tacos and cocktails, but what we’re selling is an experience. It’s important to look beyond the transactional piece to understand the “why” behind how we want to connect with our guests, what we want to deliver to them, and what we want them to take away from the experience. It’s an important exercise to all align on as an organization, and something that should be reviewed every couple of years as that “why” may shift.

—Anna Greenberg, director of marketing, bartaco

One of the critical ways to stay true to your brand is to set up some standard brand guidelines. Establish your color palette, your fonts, your logos in several variations for different applications, and ensure that your marketing team adheres to them.

This can be difficult sometimes as trends change, so definitely keep an eye on updating things to keep them fresh.

We create templates for our graphics and reuse them often with minor tweaks, but it is hard to not get tired of them. Allow your marketing team to get creative and try new things as long as they fit the overall vibe of your brand.

It also helps to establish a “voice” for your brand; our brands are playful and “punny,” and we love to use this in our socials and printables. Are you trying to convey a casual or upscale atmosphere? Imagine having a mascot that represents you perfectly, and then “talk” like them in your ads, website, and posts. People connect better with a more conversational tone when receiving info through ads.

—Ginger Flesher Sonnier, Owner/CEO, The Ginger Brands (THRōW Social, Kick Axe Throwing)

Realistic goals marketers should be aiming for:

Goals and KPIs vary by brand and objective. Most brands will agree that the goal of a marketer is to drive traffic and increase sales. In order to identify realistic goals, you need to start with how you measure the success of your campaign and set the right expectations. Start with the objective, develop a cross-channel marketing plan, enable the right tracking mechanisms, dive into the analytics, and then go look at the impact that it’s had on guest counts and sales trends. This will create a baseline for your brand to determine what goals are realistic and give you the insight needed to adjust campaigns to reach those goals.

— Christine Lorusso, senior director of digital marketing, Firebirds Wood Fired Grill

Going back to the basics of marketing, marketers should set the SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound) goals. Goals should always be realistic and aligned with your business objectives. They can be as simple as enhancing brand awareness, increasing ROI, enhancing customer retention, or adapting to market changes.

— Cai Palmiter, VP of marketing, JINYA Holdings

What operators should know about the future of restaurant marketing:

AI will continue to be the hottest topic in 2024; empowering marketing teams to make informed, data-driven decisions, at a much faster pace than ever before. Marketers who embrace AI early on will undoubtedly have a competitive edge over late adopters.

— Brandy Blackwell, VP of marketing, Another Broken Egg Cafe

The future of restaurant marketing will be centered around personalizing every touchpoint that you have with the guest. Data collection continues to be a big focus, and with all of the information that we have, access to the opportunities are endless.

— Christine Lorusso, senior director of digital marketing, Firebirds Wood Fired Grill

Operators in the restaurant industry should be aware of several key trends and strategies that are shaping the future of restaurant marketing. It is important to know that by staying informed, restaurant operators can position their business for success in an ever-changing industry landscape.

The No. 1 key trend is acknowledging that digital presence is crucial; this goes hand-in-hand with embracing technology and automation. Customer experience is another key focus, and knowing how to build a strong base of dedicated patrons by implementing a loyalty program can be crucial to future success and repeat customers.

— Cai Palmiter, VP of marketing, JINYA Holdings

What’s the value of video in marketing?

Video marketing offers a powerful way to engage, inform, and connect with your audience. Video marketing brings storytelling to life and improves information retention. Visual content creates better brand recall and recognition.

—Cai Palmiter, VP of marketing, JINYA Holdings

Marketers should embrace the approachability in making video content in today’s age and embracing the fact that typically short-form, lofi videos perform best. There’s no longer the excuse of needing to hire a videographer to capture video content for social media—apps like CapCut and even native platforms like Instagram and TikTok have made it extremely turn-key to create video content. Video content is a great forum for telling a brand’s story while also providing entertainment—those two things combined will drive brand growth.

— Anna Greenberg, director of marketing, bartaco

Best Practices for Finance

How to manage costs in an inflationary environment:

Discipline. The drudgery of the numbers will set you free. You must manage every penny every day with the utmost intensity in order to produce great costs in an inflationary environment. Setting up daily reports and systems to communicate, report on, and create action plans around labor, purchases, waste, etc. is the bare minimum to ensure you are operating at the highest level. If you wait until the week end or period end, you are too late.

— Anthony Valletta, president, bartaco

We work closely with our vendors to ensure we are getting rock bottom pricing, along with substitutions priced laterally with our preferred items. Controlling our orders by keeping a tight par system allows us to limit freight costs. We try to understand where our loss is and put procedures in place to control these losses for the cleanest inventories possible. We also try to place the right employees in charge of these responsibilities. We just started utilizing R360 to help us with inventory and par and it has already made a big difference.

—Robert Sweers, COO, The Ginger Brands (THRōW Social, Kick Axe Throwing)

How to price menu items:

First, we compare our pricing to similar venues in the local area. We want to make sure we don’t price ourselves out. Next, we work with our vendors for case buys, and discounts to keep our items profitable. Then we set our profit goal and price our items to achieve this goal. Some items might not always fit into this goal. Making up profitability on high volume items helps drive down our total COGS.

— Robert Sweers, COO, The Ginger Brands (THRōW Social, Kick Axe Throwing)

Of course it’s great to survey a broad swatch of your competitors to see what’s going on out there, but first you need to know where your brand is positioned in the category. Or to put it another way, first you must define where you want to be in your space.  For Huckleberry’s, we are in the top quartile of our category in regards to food quality and plate appeal, and in the low- to mid-quartile when it comes to menu price. That variance between what you pay and what you get is the VALUE guests receive by dining in your restaurant, and the greater the value, the greater the chances are for that repeat visit. It’s also important to have some elasticity to your menu to allow guests to buy “down” or “up” depending on the occasion usage.

— Greg Graber, CEO/founder, Heritage Restaurant Brands

Chain Restaurants, Consumer Trends, Feature, Leader Insights, NextGen Casual, Slideshow, Another Broken Egg Cafe, Firebirds Wood Fired Grill, Huckleberry's Breakfast & Lunch, JINYA Ramen Bar, Throw Social