Jennifer Hoffman

Recent Posts

3 Reasons Why Your C-store Pricing is Wrong

By Jennifer Hoffman


There’s a convenience store right down the street from me. The other day, I stopped in there for two personal necessities: milk for my cereal and gum for my desk at work. This store is a small mom-and-pop operation, and it became apparent to me that mom and pop also don’t believe in clearly pricing their goods. I paid about $4 for those two items, and I can’t tell you how the pricing broke down because neither shelf nor product was marked.

Sure, in a perfect retail setting, every store has clear and accurate pricing. Promotions are also accurately priced and displayed. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world.  Human error abounds and the most “cutting-edge” retailers can make pricing mistakes. If mom and pop make a pricing error, it can be chalked up to their small operation (although, I prefer “tough love” and not giving them a pass). If Whole Foods makes a pricing error across their chain, it can become a brand-damaging narrative that the media pounces on, and that’s what actually happened.

The reality is that you can’t afford not to audit your prices because there’s a good chance your prices are wrong! Here are three reasons why:

1. The human factor
Employees can miss a SKU when adjusting prices or they may accidentally overlook information about pricing changes. Employee turnover or insufficient training can also play a role here. Store managers, whether accidentally or not, may deviate from corporate pricing structure.

2. The “computer” factor
Pricing in the retailer’s information system can also be inaccurate. It could be wrong CPG data from the manufacturer or vendor. As a result, the wrong price is recorded at the store level. Important note: At some point, you have to draw the line between machine and human accountability. That’s why I put “computer” factor in quotes. Pricing isn’t static and at the end of the day, someone—preferably more than one person—needs to cross-reference the accuracy of the information in the system.

3. The promotions factor
Misplaced point-of-purchase materials, mispriced compared to competitors, lack of in-store visibility. These are all problems related to your promotions. That’s the diagnosis, but the remedy is real-time information. If you’re regularly auditing your stores and accounting for these things—and most importantly, if you can fix them in real time—you will have a competitive advantage.

Remember that your customers are only spending a couple of minutes in your convenience store. In terms of customer service, you may not have time to ask your regular customer how their kids are doing. You may not have the time to know your customer that well. But when you provide accurately priced goods that are conveniently placed and your employees are knowledgeable about promotions, you’ve just won in customer service.

So, how about checking those prices? Mom and pop would write down the SKU and flip through a book or check their computer. Meanwhile, the super competitors are scanning  a barcode for instant data. That’s where the technology is heading, and you should go with it.

Zenput is a mobile software solution that allows retailers to be proactive vs. reactive. It’s a platform where insights can be shared easily and instantly. The Zenput app also incorporates a barcode scanner for SKU verification. With Zenput, retailers gain the ability to verify promotional pricing and respond to pricing inconsistencies at the store level—all in real-time.

To learn more about Zenput’s functionality in convenience stores, click here.

Topics: C-store

The Rewards of Restaurant Employee Training and Culture

By Jennifer Hoffman


When you think of the culture of your typical American casual dining restaurant, what do you think of? For a lot of people, myself included, it’s Jennifer Aniston’s character in the movie “Office Space.” If you haven’t already noticed, that’s a favorite movie for the Zenput team, simply for the fact that it holds universal truths about work environments, which we aim to improve.

There’s that scene where Aniston gets reprimanded by the restaurant manager for not wearing enough “flair”—the buttons that supposedly show her personality. According to the director, “Office Space” made TGI Fridays get rid of “flair,” because customers started making fun of the servers—the intersection of art and life!  It’s a silly idea that “flair” could improve a server’s mood or make a restaurant culture more fun. It reminds me of when a company has a “Fun Committee.” Just because you tack “fun” onto something, doesn’t mean your employees enjoy their environment.

We already know that the restaurant industry has high turnover. But it’s troubling when the latest statistics show that turnover rates have been pushing higher. An improving economy could mean more day-to-day, month-to-month operational challenges for managers.  It could also mean increased competition because consumers have more disposable income and restaurants are competing for their dollars.

Case in point in this market segment: Ruby Tuesday just announced the closure of 95 restaurants.

Managers in casual restaurants have enough to worry about lately. How can employee training and culture—the umbrella of employee engagement—improve? Can they improve to the point where turnover decreases?

Using Processes That Work

I recently read a fascinating account of Chili’s employee training procedures. This article was a genius pitch. Journalist Daniel Riley, who happens to be a former “Chilihead”, asked his former employer if he could go behind the scenes of the team that trains managers for restaurant openings. It’s a detailed account of what makes Chili’s successful today and, quite possibly, what has made this brand stand the test of time.

What I took away from the story was an affirmation of what I’ve learned at Zenput: Processes that encourage employees to think in “real time” and to think on their feet really do work. Implementing time-tested, best practices works. Following up on site to make sure best practices are being implemented also works. It all just works at Chili’s. They have a formula for success that’s just as flavorful as their Presidente margarita—and even that has a designated 25 shakes!

This is my favorite line of Riley’s article: “At Chili's, though, kids who start as dishwashers can wind up on an all-expenses-paid adventure to Malaysia because they did a simple job better than anyone else and had the right attitude about it the whole way. At Chili's, life gets bigger and better by fifteen new restaurants a year.”

And do you know the No. 1 fundamental of working at Chili’s? Everyone pay attention: It’s having fun!

Can you create an environment where people want to stay, if not for a career (like many do in Chili’s), but to return on their college breaks?

Recognizing good employee effort and rewarding that effort isn’t a new idea in this industry. But doing it in a consistent, measurable way is the true team effort—more so than an inspirational poster in the break room. Measuring the effectiveness of training can change a restaurant’s culture. And changing culture doesn’t just allow a brand to survive in a crowded market—it allows an organization to thrive.

Topics: Restaurants

Why Pizza Hut’s ‘Easy Beats Better’ Philosophy Works

By Jennifer Hoffman


One of my good friends from the Northeast recently said something that shocked me. We were at an event and ordered what many people from his area would call “fake pizza.” To him, “fake pizza” is anything produced outside of a mom-and-pop pizzeria. In other words, it’s any pizza created by a major chain. After a few bites he said, “You know, sometimes I really enjoy this kind of pizza.”

WHOA! The same guy who routinely argues about which pizzeria uses the correct amount of cheese suddenly conceded that national chain pizza can be tasty in its own right and in the right moment. In fact, customers routinely crave this kind of pizza.

That’s what Pizza Hut discovered after the chain’s “Flavor of Now” menu was reportedly flat-lining. True, more Americans are increasingly seeking out high-end, artisan foods. But they weren’t looking for that from Pizza Hut. Pizzas with a Honey Sriracha sauce, jalapeno peppers, or an Asiago crust just weren’t driving business. When it came down to it, customers didn’t want fancy pizza from Pizza Hut—they wanted faster pizza. That’s how Pizza Hut’s new philosophy became “easy beats better.”

‘Uber Pizza’

Greg Creed, the CEO of Pizza Hut parent company Yum Brands, has resolved to make Pizza Hut the Uber of national pizza chains. The brand’s focus has turned to ease of ordering and speed of delivery. After tying its loyalty program to its mobile app, Pizza Hut started reaping the rewards. As Pizza Monthly Quarterly reports, the company sold about $2 million more on Super Bowl Sunday in 2016 compared to the year prior. Tellingly, more than 60% of the online orders were placed through mobile Web browsers or through the Pizza Hut app.

Combined with the success of Pizza Hut’s $5 Flavor Menu, the brand is getting back on track in a highly competitive foodservice space. Although Pizza Hut recently reported flat same-store sales, the brand seems to be making the right strategic moves. Aside from faster delivery, it’s taking another page from Domino’s playbook by launching a social media chatbot. The platform will be available across Pizza Hut social media accounts this upcoming fall, and will enable customers to order through Facebook or Twitter.

In all fairness, you can argue that Pizza Hut is biting at the heels of Domino’s, which is seeing shares hit a record high after posting better-than-expected quarterly sales and profit. Domino’s has allowed customers to order a pizza by tweeting the pizza emoji for more than a year.

But as they enter new territory with technology, both chains have to keep something important in mind…

Physical Stores Needs to Keep Up

Pizza isn’t delivered by a little blue bird through your computer. It’s delivered by a nuts-and-bolts operation in a physical store, with kitchen employees and delivery drivers. If orders will increase with more technology, and if customers expect those orders to arrive sooner, will your stores and staff keep up? Do they have a solid command of the basics in recipe execution, ingredients inventory, and overall sanitation?

It’s the little things that are so easy to lose sight of when focusing on “big picture” initiatives. Don’t lose the forest for the trees… or the toppings for the pizza!


Wanna ‘Pizza’ Your Restaurant Competition? Customization and Technology Are Key
How to Perform a Pizza Franchise Inspection
Brand Auditing for QSRs
Pizza Delivery Vehicle Inspection Form

Topics: Restaurants

Today’s Forecourt: Opportunities to Convert Customers from the Pump

By Jennifer Hoffman


Today’s convenience store forecourt offers one thing to retailers and customers alike—opportunity. For retailers, the forecourt represents the opportunity to convince customers to make an additional purchase beyond the gas pump. For customers, the modern forecourt should be an opportunity to quickly and safely make a fuel purchase while learning of a store’s promotions.

Gas station customers have 3 motivations when they arrive on your property:

  1. They have to fill up their tank. As we know from NACS, 80% of fuel sold in the U.S. is sold at a convenience store chain. Filling up could be their sole motivation.

  2. They need to fill up their tank and use the restroom. That’s a common scenario for customers traveling during the summer months and an ideal opportunity to upsell during their pit stop.
  3. They fill up their tank and purposely stop for beverages, snacks, cigarettes or perhaps even a lottery ticket. That’s a c-store retailer’s ideal customer—the customer who is already interested in entering the store.

But let’s not give up on the other two kinds of customers and let’s not take that third type for granted. The forecourt is an opportunity not only to upsell, but also to promote brand loyalty. It’s a positive experience with efficient and friendly service that makes these customers return.

In order to provide a positive experience, retailers need to create a forecourt environment that fits all three of these characteristics:

  1. Well-lit, clean and inviting. If it’s not a safe, inviting and sanitary environment, a customer might not go the extra distance to use your restroom, nevermind purchase a food product.

  2. Functional. Is your equipment working? Are the pumps and credit card terminals functional? Do you monitor for security? A security breach can damage your brand and lead customers to choose your competitor down the street.

  3. Promotional. You can have the best merchandise mix in your store and the most thorough attention to detail. But if you’re not advertising new products at your forecourt, that’s going to be a problem for moving customers into your store. The forecourt has numerous surfaces and vantage points that can be used to advertise to customers, whether on the actual gas pumps or standing signs. There is an opportunity to integrate small screens and digital signage technology into the modern forecourt as well.

Keeping Up With Trends

The convenience and fuel retailing industry has never been one that stands still, so expect more changes to the forecourt in the near future. As discussed in a recent Convenience Store Decisions article, the future of the convenience forecourt will be better lighting, more touchscreens for ordering, more drive-thrus, and more outdoor seating. We already see retailers across the nation implementing these changes.

Now is the time to start finding out what works for your brand. Implement a change—perhaps an upgrade to promotional signage—and measure the outcome. Define a set of core criteria for converting customers from the forecourt and audit your stores to make sure they’re implementing these best practices. By optimizing conversion of sales now, you’ll be better positioned to implement the design of the future when the time comes.

Converting Your Forecourt into a Moneymaker
Auditing Branded Gas Station Forecourts Can Increase Supplier Payments
How to Conduct a Property Inspection

Topics: C-store

Managing by Checklist: NASA Does It and So Can You!

By Jennifer Hoffman


If you know about space shuttle launches, you know the importance of the checklist.

In what seems like a lifetime ago (1999 to be exact), a friend of mine was vacationing in Florida and witnessed a space shuttle launch. It was one of the most incredible experiences of her life, especially after the launch was scrapped twice—once for a hydrogen level issue and the other for weather. This particular launch was scheduled at night, which was stunning to view. But what stood out to her—and which she later shared when learning about Zenput—was the massive pre-flight checklist. As detailed by Wired, there are several components of the checklist with sub-components. Part 8 is its own step to confirm that the checklist has been completed. Seriously, can you imagine having the responsibility of checking off the fuel tanks of a space shuttle?

Now consider this: If a checklist is good enough for NASA, why can’t it be good enough for your retail operation? The best and the brightest minds, arguably in the U.S. and maybe even the world, use a checklist to get the job done. Checklists keep the mission on track. Checklists account for deficiencies. Checklists are smart!


Not All Checklists are Created Equal

When NASA uncovers a problem during its pre-flight checklist, what follows is a predetermined sequence of events. The outcome is determined by the type of issue and its severity. The team knows how to respond accordingly. So must it be for the checklists you use in your restaurant or retail operation. Don’t send the results into outer space—follow up to keep your team accountable!

Go paperless with a process. Gone are the days of pencil and paper. The world moves at a digital pace, and no one has time to transcribe written survey responses. That time is better spent addressing the inefficiencies you and your team have uncovered.

All Systems Go

Check everything, but don’t make it overwhelming for any one manager. NASA scientists have specialties. Consider making your managers specialized. For instance, if you were to conduct a weekly retail audit of specific locations with a checklist, you could assign specific tasks to managers in the field. Have one manager check property, another check retail promotions, and a third check kitchen sanitation. Next month, switch responsibilities among managers to gain fresh perspectives and to compare previous results. This could also help with employee engagement. Managers will gain a more well-rounded view of your operation, and it will hopefully keep them engaged in the team’s efforts to identify and resolve problems.

The most effective checklists go beyond simple yes, no, or maybe answers. Take on the role of a survey, they garner actionable insights. You can optimize the fields of your checklist by using a sliding rating scale or requiring a photo. Senior management can also be alerted to exceptions, all on the same platform. For instance: “Rate the cleanliness of the floor from 1 (very poor) to 10 (very clean).” Anything falling under a 5 could alert senior management that there’s a cleanliness issue at that particular store. The visiting manager could use their smartphone to take a photo of what they see. Resolving this problem could drastically improve sales.

Blast Off!

Above all, let your imagination soar when brainstorming how to develop your checklist. A nimble platform like Zenput allows your management team to edit surveys and respond in real time from their preferred device. Zenput also provides a way to measure industry best practices and develop your own over time, all while improving operations and building your team’s confidence to respond to real-time challenges.  

Topics: Retail, Restaurants

Bottom Line: Car Washes Increase Revenue

By Jennifer Hoffman


With convenience stores selling an estimated 80% of the gasoline purchased in the U.S., adding a car wash may seem like a good idea. It gets even more promising when 86% of U.S. car wash equipment manufacturers reported a collective revenue increasing of 20% last year, according to a 2015 industry survey.

The study appeared in a Convenience Store Decisions article about car washes becoming a high-margin opportunity for convenience stores. “Presuming there is a market to be served and the site has the ability to process the demand, the car wash can contribute significantly to the bottom line,” Eric Wulf, CEO of the International Carwash Association, told CSD. He added that convenience store operators have more options than ever before due to new models and technologies. From mini-tunnels that minimize land usage to RFID technology that automates payment, more retailers are having success by increasing their throughput of cars per hour.

Car Wash Fundamentals

Like the convenience store or gas island, a car wash must be clean and functional, and offer a positive customer service experience. Car wash promotions are connected to the store’s marketing efforts and can tie into loyalty programs; the profit margins are intertwined.

CSD profiles Idaho-based Stinker Stores, which operates two touchless and eight soft-touch car washes. The select number of stores offering those services is notable, considering Stinker Stores operates 65 locations throughout the state. All of the systems have upgraded equipment to maximize efficiency and ensure that customers are getting the best experience.

Remember the Nationwide insurance commercial which depicted a rather large human baby as a car? Don’t mess with your customer’s baby! They will take to social media to complain, including on platforms like Yelp, and this can damage your brand.

Honk if You Have a Process

Whether installing or maintaining a car wash operation, it’s essential that you audit your operations both for functionality and marketing program compliance.

Sample audit questions:

  1. On average how long does it take a car to be washed, from the time it arrives at the terminal to the time the customer is ready to leave?
  2. Is equipment operational? (Can be more specific: brushes, rinsers, wipers, blow dryers, etc.)
  3. Is the car wash terminal an inviting, well-lit environment?

If the survey was built with Zenput, an answer of “no” to questions 2 and 3 would elicit a photo or explanation that could alert senior management that service is needed. Senior management could also set the average service time for Question 1. Therefore, they would receive an alert when the service time was taking too long. There might be a malfunction inside the tunnel or simply a traffic jam on a bright, sunny day when everyone wants a wash.

We usually say Zenput provides store-level insights. In this case, wash-level insights—down to a lack of soap—could be accounted for during an audit. It’s yet another example of how mobile technology can empower business operators to explore profit-building opportunities—without the fear of losing your shirt in the wash!

Topics: C-store

The Minimum Wage is Rising… As Should Employee Accountability

By Jennifer Hoffman


In California, the “fight for $15” didn’t have to reach a ballot vote, as was initially expected. Just the prospect of the November ballot incentivized lawmakers to form a plan to raise the minimum wage in a way that would appease groups on both sides of the issue. Governor Jerry Brown signed SB3 into law Monday, April 4, making California the largest state to improve the standard of living for low-wage workers, approximately 3.3 million men and women in California.

Under California’s new law, the minimum wage will rise by 50 cents in each of the next two years to $10.50 in 2017 and $11 in 2018. It will then rise by $1 for the remaining four years to reach $15 in 2022. The law grants small businesses with 25 or fewer employees an additional year to comply.

April 4 also saw the passage of a New York law that gradually raises the minimum wage from $9 to $15. This law is two-tiered, meaning a higher $15 per hour minimum in New York City and a lower legal minimum for less-costly areas. The bill also contains a “safety valve” that from 2019 allows state budget officials to consider the effects of the wage increases on regional economies and determine whether they should continue or be suspended. New York City businesses with up to 10 employees are given four years instead of three to comply.

Employee Accountability Should Rise With Minimum Wage

Not surprisingly, reactions to both laws in California and New York varied dramatically. Low-income workers and their advocates were elated, while business owners and officials expressed disappointment and concern about long-term effects on the competitive environment in each state.

Regardless of where business operators stand on the issue, there’s one point everyone can agree on: When you pay an employee more, you expect a comparable return from your employees. Likewise, customers increasingly demand a better customer service experience. They expect this on their own, but especially when they know workers are making more money. In light of these factors, it just makes sense that accountability within organizations should increase with rising wages.

Employee accountability begins with the onboarding process and clear communication of the standards that reinforce your brand’s mission. It ends with your organization’s ability to account for its own practices and procedures. Employee accountability comes down to having processes you can quantify.

Quantifying includes retail employee performance reviews, but extends well beyond that. It involves auditing the main floor, whether it’s a store or restaurant. It prioritizes cleanliness, whether it’s in the kitchen where employees work or in the restrooms your customers use. It accounts for the exterior of the premises, from the tidiness of the landscaping to the proper disposal of trash.

Are the tasks that support your brand’s image being completed? That’s the question business operators need to answer in order to gain actionable insights.

In theory, minimum wage increases can be good for the economy. When employees earn more, they spend more. The issue is that legislative decisions don’t exist in a vacuum. Businesses want to attract and retain good employees. In order to build and maintain a positive work environment, business owners and operators—especially those in high-turnover segments—must “take the temperature” of their operations. Implementing these processes will ensure that the employer is getting the most return for higher hourly wages.

See Also
How to Conduct a Retail Employee Performance Review
How to Conduct a Property Inspection
Brand Auditing for QSRs

Topics: Restaurants

Norovirus Prevention Can Be Measured

By Jennifer Hoffman


Google “norovirus” and what appears is basically all you need to know—“winter vomiting bug.” But what should also appear is a “reoccurring nightmare for the restaurant industry.”

Norovirus is the leading cause of illness and outbreaks from contaminated food in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, about 50% of all outbreaks of food-related illness are caused by norovirus. Some foods are more commonly associated with outbreaks, including leafy greens, fresh fruits, and shellfish such as oysters. However, any food that is raw or handled after being cooked can become contaminated.

Health care facilities accounted for nearly 63% of norovirus outbreaks from 2009 through 2012, according to the CDC. The restaurant industry was the only other double-digit source at 22%. Infected food workers are frequently the source of outbreaks, meaning they touched food with their bare hands.

The Real Cost of Norovirus

While the CDC findings are important to understanding the scope of norovirus, it’s equally as important to drive home the dollar and cents of an outbreak. A recent norovirus outbreak at a Chipotle in Massachusetts serves as an example of how quickly things can spiral out of control for a brand.

Four of the employees at a Boston-area Chipotle came down with norovirus after being infected during an outbreak at their high school. One of the employee’s parents decided to alert the media as well as the local health department, which temporarily shut down the store. This incident was on the heels of Chipotle’s brush with a multiple-state E.coli outbreak. What followed was a mass exodus of investors and a $750 million loss in the company’s market cap in two days. Notably, the employees had not come to work sick and there were no reports of ill customers.

Given this perfect storm of foodborne illness, you might just think Chipotle has exceptionally bad luck. But you would have to say the same for Buffalo Wild Wings, which faced its own norovirus outbreak in Kansas right before Super Bowl Sunday. Once state officials confirmed the outbreak, the company’s stock fell 13% in one day to a 15-month low.

Don’t Leave Norovirus Prevention Up to ‘Luck’

Restaurant and foodservice brands must make every effort to prevent norovirus outbreaks. It start with training employees and ends with accountability; both can be documented.


Every employee must receive norovirus training during their on-boarding. Document when each employee has completed training, and have them sign off that they understand their responsibility to notify management if they contract norovirus or experience symptoms.


As part of a pre-shift checklist, each restaurant manager should ask employees if they have experienced any norovirus symptoms in the last two days.

Note: In the form, be sure to clearly list what those symptoms are, including diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and stomach pain. Other symptoms include fever, headache, and body aches.

Reacting to ‘Yes’

Let’s consider when your employee genuinely is sick and tells you. Management should be notified immediately. The employee should be sent home and the reason should be indicated in the form. If the employee was sent home mid-shift, the areas where the employee worked should be cleaned thoroughly.

Note: Set the guidelines for what constitutes a thorough cleaning. For instance, if the person was in charge of handling fresh vegetables, discard those vegetables and wash utensils/equipment they handled. Document when the food was discarded.

More Than an ‘Honors System’

To a certain extent, the success of accountability procedures comes down to the honors system.

  • Does every employee stay home when they are sick? No.
  • Do other employees want to “tattle” that a colleague is sick? Probably not.

Still, that doesn’t mean employees can’t be incentivized.  There should be a safeguard of anonymity, and perhaps even an incentive, if an employee alerts management that a colleague is ill with norovirus symptoms and handling food.

Depending on the size of the network, regional managers could verify the norovirus checklists of individual stores during a routine audit. Through a platform like Zenput, senior management could receive an alert about any store that’s not in line with training and accountability.

When it comes to compliance, food safety is too important not to follow up for compliance. In the event of an outbreak and subsequent investigation, your documentation and ability to take corrective action will make all the difference in moving past the incident.

Topics: Restaurants

First USDA-Certified Restaurant is Well-Timed Alternative

By Jennifer Hoffman


Like most good ideas, it started with a problem. Erica Welton, a former Costco food buyer, was frustrated by the lack of clean, quick options at lunchtime or on busy weekends. She would see people order organic greens in restaurants and then pour non-organic dressing on them—it defeated the purpose.

Welton’s restaurant, The Organic Coup, is reportedly the country’s first USDA-certified organic fast-food restaurant. USDA certification is not an easy benchmark. It means 95% or more of the ingredients served at this restaurant come from certified organic growers and farmers, as required by the USDA to receive certification.

Now you may be thinking, “Great. Another place where I can get a kale smoothie!” But that’s not the case, at all. In fact, the main menu item is The Coup Signature Sandwich—a fried chicken sandwich made with all organic ingredients and served with a side of popcorn. You can also get a chicken wrap or salad.

Welton has an aggressive growth plan for The Organic Coup. The first location in Pleasanton, CA, opened in November, and 25 are expected to open in the next 14 months. The chain will depart from the typical QSR in another big way: the starting salary at The Organic Coup is $16, which is $3.75 more per hour than the current minimum wage.

The Organic Coup is carrying out three trends we’ve witnessed in the QSR and fast-casual dining spaces in recent months:

  1. Better-for-you ingredients
  2. Simplified menu
  3. Paying employees higher wages.

For point 1, a parallel can be drawn to Panera, who made a commitment to drop artificial ingredients from its food, including 150 food additives, by the end of 2016. In the QSR segment, Taco Bell, McDonald’s, and Burger King have introduced healthy and nutritious food items to their menus. According to research firm Technavio, these new items, including fruits, salads, and low-fat chocolate milk will likely contribute to market growth in the Americas through 2019.

Point 2 is reminiscent of McDonald’s realization that their menu was too complicated. In early 2015, they rolled out a simplified menu with fewer items to reduce confusion and increase speed. The Organic Coup is starting out with just three menu options and two sides.

Menu prices are tied to both menu quality and employee wages. Point 3 can be compared to Shake Shack’s recent decision to raise menu prices while paying employees more, ahead of minimum wage increases which some cities have already enacted or are currently working to legislate. There’s also something to be said for quality: Shake Shack charges more for a premium burger. Similarly, a chicken sandwich from The Organic Coup will cost you around $9. It’s a good hike from a dollar menu, but with USDA certification, you’re confident in the quality of the product you’re purchasing.

The Takeaway

In many ways, The Organic Coup represents the future of fast-food. Not all restaurants will be able to make the transition to USDA-certified menus, but the point isn’t lost. The industry is well aware of changing consumer preferences.

The decision is not one that can be made overnight, but more QSRs can start the conversation now. They may have to reformulate products, switch vendors, and possibly change how a product is made at the store-level. Such decisions may affect prices, but they can also be a great promotional opportunity for your brand.

Don’t wait too long to start the process. There are competitors at every turn, and your customer might just go for that new chicken joint down the block.

Topics: Restaurants

McDonald’s ‘Create Your Taste’ Borrows from C-Stores’ Playbook

By Jennifer Hoffman


QuikTrip, Sheetz, Rutter’s, Wawa. All of these convenience store chains have cult-like food followings, and all of them have something important in common: Customers order through touch-screen kiosks.

Today’s customers, especially Millennials, love customization. Ordering by touch-screen presents an opportunity to express their individuality. Even non-Millennials appreciate touch-screen technology. From smartphones and tablets to the dashboard in our cars, we’ve grown accustomed to this convenience. C-stores have been leading the way to introduce touch screens into the retail space, and they’ve done so with great success.

So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that McDonald’s, a brand that has at times struggled to find its footing in the 21st century, is taking a page out of c-stores’ playbook. McDonald’s is expanding its “Create Your Taste” (CYT) across the country. The concept lets guests design their own burger or sandwich at a touch-screen kiosk, or a regular counter. Our local San Francisco market is seeing the expansion of this concept. Two locations that offer CYT are already open, and a third is expected this spring.

Delivering on the Next-Level Promise

CYT is an opportunity for McDonald’s to compete not only with convenience stores, but also with its biggest QSR competitor, Burger King. For years, Burger King touted the customizability of its menu items. By making a serious move into self-ordering kiosks, McDonald’s could take customization to the next level.

But by promising that next-level experience, McDonald’s has to deliver on next-level quality. A customizable burger costs an average of $6, so it’s crucial that the food is better than dollar-menu fare. For instance, if a customer orders a toasted artisan roll, it should be freshly toasted. Toppings like jalapeno peppers, guacamole, and grilled mushrooms need to be well-stocked if offered. Employees may need training on the quality and quantity of the new ingredients. This calls to mind an experience I had at a QSR (not McDonald’s) where fresh basil was applied liberally like it was shredded lettuce; the sandwich was inedible.

Premium ingredients applied to classic recipes and delivered in a timely fashion through new technology can be a tall order to execute. That’s why McDonald’s is taking its time to roll out CYT. It’s currently available throughout Australia, and look for all of the McDonald’s in the state of Florida and Manhattan to be CYT locations by the end of the year. The paced rollout matches the brand’s new approach to the customer experience: Slow down, get it right, and enjoy the experience! 

See Also

The Secret Sauce to Fast Casual Restaurants’ Success
McDonald’s All-Day Breakfast: A Glimmer of Hope in Uphill Battle
Restaurant Operations Lessons from In-N-Out Burger

Topics: Restaurants