1. What are the biggest challenges in the restaurant industry today?
Wow, where do I start? There are many areas that are challenging us right now, external as well as internal. Externally, we face volatile commodity markets, increased regulations, and increasing fast casual competition. Internally, we face sustaining our culture while growing the concept, continuously improving processes, and staying in touch with customer needs.
I think today, restaurants who want to compete on quality are finding the current inflationary commodity markets a big challenge. Critical to navigating through this challenge is a strategic approach to the menu mix. You want a mix that delivers value to customers and, at the same time, delivers sustainable profit. In terms of unit economics, we have to be creative and practical. At Jason’s Deli, our mission is to make customers happy. We do that by serving a quality menu made from ingredients that are “less fooled-around-with”. Clean ingredients are not the cheapest ingredients, but we make a conscious choice to serve our customers food they can trust. That is challenging in this environment.
2. What are the biggest opportunities?
We have locations in 28 states. We have significant growth opportunities throughout the U.S., and eventually internationally. We have the culture, the people, the menu, the supply chain, and the financial resources to grow for many, many years to come. Our opportunity, with help from our partner Buxton, is in finding the best markets matching our customer profiles and reaching our strategic growth targets.
3. What is the role that customer intelligence plays in your business, and how does it have an impact on the decisions you make?
There is a lot of noise in customer data. This prevents companies from listening to the right customers. Listening to customers is important. Listening to the right customers is critical. Most businesses derive a majority of revenue from a minority of customers. Developing the profile of our most profitable customers puts us in a position to listen and learn what facts will increase value for the customer. These facts translate into increased value for the company. Buxton is helping us do that. Listening to profitable customer segments helps us understand their needs, and shapes the customer experience to meet them. Customer intelligence is part art and part science. Making fact-based decisions is our goal, but we also can’t lose our ability to anticipate changing customer needs.
4. What parts of your business are you applying analytics to, and have you seen any results?
In our concept, we serve dine-in, take-out and catering/delivery customers. Since there are fewer catering customers relative to our dine-in and take-out customers, and catering customers are more easily identified, we have more robust analytics for catering customers. Catering has always represented a significant percentage of our business and is growing. Our analytics are driving investment results in customer acquisition, retention and growth. Buxton’s tools and data have opened a new analytic door for us. What we are able to measure is improving with these tools.
5. What are you reading now?
I recently read Makers, by Chris Anderson, fascinating book about the coming transformation of global manufacturing. I’m finishing my Executive MBA at UT Dallas, so I won’t bore you with the rest of the reading list. I like reading broadly across many disciplines. I find reading across diverse subjects helps spur ideas and creativity. Next on the list is The Intention Economy, by Doc Searls.