Julia Burnett

Recent Posts

Energy Savings Lessons from Arby’s

By Julia Burnett


How to save energy is a topic on everyone’s mind, especially here in California. As we’ve discussed previously, California is in the midst of a devastating drought, and companies are looking for creative ways to efficiently save energy and money, while still appealing to customers. One of the companies taking creative steps is Arby’s.

Efficiency Matters

Arby’s strategy is outlined thoroughly in Nicole Troxell’s QSRWeb.com article. It all started three years ago when the chair started its “Efficiency Matters” program. The general goals of this program are to use more eco-friendly equipment, which "achieve short-term, low-cost, no-cost objectives, then slowly turn those wins into larger investments," said Frank Inoa, senior director, operations engineering, Arby’s Restaurant Group Inc.

All of Arby’s strategies had “zero negative impact” on patrons. These strategies included the introduction of a more effective on-off schedule, aerators in hand sinks, and adjustments to temperature in its hot water heaters. Most of these adjustments were out of sight.

"Most companies target a 2-year simple payback and for the most part that is Arby’s target as well. However, we take several considerations, from operational benefits, to safety, guest experience and curb appeal. Taking all these elements into consideration makes a much better business case than just ROI," Inoa added.

Long-Term Effects

Arby’s has a huge presence in the state, with approximately 80 locations. The effect of these measures can be crucial in the coming months in light of California’s state-wide restrictions and regulations on water usage.

A lot of companies, however, do not replace old equipment with new energy efficient equipment, as the actual immediate savings are indeterminate. However, some companies, like Arby’s are making strides in the right direction.

The Takeaway

Conservation doesn’t have to mean added expenses. With models like Arby’s, restaurants can participate in energy without costly repercussions.

Oversight and awareness is critical for any energy saving policy. If conservation is a corporate responsibility, it’s the responsibility of corporations to know what’s happening at their locations on a daily basis. Eliminate the guesswork by encouraging employees to report issues in real time. An effective system will improve communication between store-level operations and executive oversight.

Topics: Restaurants

McDonald’s All-Day Breakfast: The Golden Goose for the Golden Arches?

By Julia Burnett


It’s not news that McDonald’s’ sales have been slipping in the last couple years. For five consecutive quarters the fast-food giant has reported losses, and is projected to close more stores than it opens this year for the first time in at least 40 years. Now, Mickey D’s is hoping to turn its financials around by tapping into something that Americans already knew – we love having breakfast all day.

The test began at select stores in the San Diego area in April, and results warranted a larger, more national rollout. Starting October 6, McDonald’s will offer breakfast all day, only months after testing the idea in a number of their stores. The all-day sale of Egg McMuffins alone may boost sales by as much as 2.5% per year. It’s considered McDonald’s biggest rollout since its McCafe line in 2009, McDonald’s USA President Mike Andres told the Wall Street Journal.

Turning Up the Heat

If you’ve ever been to a McDonald’s at around 10:30 a.m or 11:00 a.m., it can be a real downer when a  teller announces that the breakfast menu is no longer available. I always found breakfast hours at major chains like McDonald’s to be an odd and arbitrary period, although the cutoff was due to differing workloads in the kitchen and grill space. Customers have been clamoring for all-day breakfast. It’s a challenge to prepare breakfast items, burgers, chicken nuggets, and McWraps all at the same time.

However, the people asked, and the Golden Arches will deliver. However, the company is balancing two conflicting objectives, according to CNBC. One one hand, unhappy franchisees want to cull the menu, while new offerings are important to boosting sales. Menu innovation and new flavors especially appeal to Millennials, and McDonald’s is certainly paying attention to 120,000 tweets asking for all-day breakfast.

The Golden Goose for the Golden Arches?

It will be interesting to see how much all-day breakfast affects McDonald’s profits in the coming quarters. However, to say that all-day breakfast is McDonald’s long-awaited golden goose might be premature. It will really come down to store-level execution and customer service.

For instance, during the height of lunch traffic, will a store be able to get an Egg McMuffin out the drive-thru window as quickly as a cheeseburger? Will franchisees quickly report issue with their new equipment, including a dedicated egg griddle and a toaster exclusively for the McMuffins?

McDonald’s is banking on success, considering it will cost between $500 and $5,000 for each franchise to make these changes with corporate’s help, CNN Money reported. With 14,300 U.S. stores, it's no small investment, and as the article points out, CEO Steve Easterbrook offered few details on how to improve food quality and enhance brand image.

The only way to improve brand image is to be diligent about operational processes at the store level. McDonald’s and franchisees need to roll up their sleeves and get crackin’, not only on eggs but also on communication to work out the minor kinks—and there will be plenty, as expected in any major product rollout.

Topics: Restaurants

Another Supermarket, Another Devastating Price Auditing Stumble

By Julia Burnett


Earlier this year, Pacific Northwest-based grocery chain Haggen Inc., announced it would acquire 146 stores as part of the divestment process brought about by the Federal Trade Commission review of the Albertsons LLC and Safeway merger.

With this acquisition, Haggen expanded from 18 stores with 16 pharmacies to 164 stores with 106 pharmacies, and from 2,000 employees to more than 10,000. It went from operating in Oregon and Washington to becoming a major regional chain in Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada and Arizona. Haggen embarked on its plan to remodel and rebrand the stores at an ambitious pace-—between one to 12 stores each week.

The expansion took many by surprise, considering that Haggen had closed 12 stores since 2011 after a private investment firm Comvest Group took a majority interest in the chain. It doesn’t sound like this was a retailer poised for 800% growth overnight—and it wasn’t.

In August, Haggen announced it has to shut down 27 of the stores it acquired, including 16 in California.

What went wrong?

Rising Star, Falling

When Haggen debuted in some markets, its products were mistakenly overpriced. To be exact, 1,000 items — or about 2.5% of a store's products — were erroneously overpriced at 10 supermarkets in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties, reported the Los Angeles Times. According to analysts, Haggen never fully recovered from this stumble.

Much like the recent Whole Foods pricing scandal, some of items were incorrectly underpriced as well.

The error was attributed to a computer glitch and took weeks to sort out, Haggen Pacific Southwest CEO Bill Shaner said. He added that the company regularly checks prices at rival stores to make sure it’s within a few cents of similar items.

This information begs an important question: If Haggen truly checked its prices regularly and responded to shifts in prices, why did it take so long to sort out item pricing at the point-of-sale?


Mistakes happen, but it’s all about how you deal with them.

Here’s are some what-if hypotheticals about what Haggen could have done differently: 

  • What if Haggen had deployed an aggressive strategy of self-auditing prices when it first noticed the problem?
  • What if Haggen assigned store managers or assistant managers to be pricing ambassadors to communicate to customers that a transitional error was happening? These ambassadors could have warned customers of the glitch as they approach the point-of-sale, and encourage them to check their receipts. Combine that with ramped up customer service presence until the computer glitch is resolved.
  • What if corporate has a way of quickly notifying store managers to adjust the prices of a specific product? Since the error was confined to the Southern California market, the idea isn’t completely unfeasible.

Haggen said it will now focus on its “right sizing strategy” but it’s unclear if the company will ever again become a big player in the West’s grocery industry.

If there’s something to learn from Haggen’s missteps and subsequent downsizing it’s this:

Recognize Customer Expectations
Customers recognize overpricing and it’s important to research pricing of competition. Just because a grocer caters to a niche audience doesn’t mean that customers will blindly dig deeper into their pockets.

Employee Self-Auditing
Employees notice when prices are too high as well, and often, employees shop at the stores where they work. Training employees to self-audit may have helped Haggen adjust erroneous prices.

Sample Supermarket Inspection Checklist

Topics: Grocery

Domino’s Transformation and The Importance of Brand Auditing

By Julia Burnett


Regardless of how you feel about Domino’s pizza, this is a company that excels at two things.

1. Domino’s is good at blowing things up—literally.

The pizza chain’s recent TV spot shows the company’s executive vice president of store operations and a store manager conspiring to demolish the Domino’s Pizza sign outside a California location. This is a commercial that really speaks to Americans’ love of pizza and live-action entertainment.

Of course, earlier this year the company figuratively blew up its identity by dropping “Pizza” from the Domino’s name to reflect the fact that the brand offers an expanded menu.

2. Domino’s calls itself out regularly.

In February, the company invited people to call out old signage in a social media shaming, reported the Chicago Sun Times. Specifically, the company created a hashtag #LOGOINFORMANTS and  #SWEEPS and asked Instagrammers to identify stores that had old “Pizza” signage. Ironically, the grand prizes in this sweepstakes were free pizza for a year.

Domino’s ‘Radical Transparency’

Of course, you most likely remember Domino’s gutsy “Oh Yes We Did” campaign in 2009, which saw the company basically admit its pizza was terrible. The company needed to do something drastic to improve its sales, and this was their solution. This effort coincided with “Show Us Your Pizza” campaign, in which Domino’s  asked customers to take photographs of their food to be used in ad campaigns.

These radically transparent initiatives set Domino’s on a new course to success, reported AdvertisingAge. It all came down to accountability and strong top-down leadership. Operational consistency was paramount. If Domino’s was going to rebrand and reinvent itself, everyone needed to be on board: from the executive team to the pizza line cook.

Now in 2015, Domino’s has carried its radical transparency to the store level. It is now committed to remodeling stores into pizza theaters  to give customers a clear view of kitchen operations, and continues to innovate with its artisan pizza offerings. There was also a TV spot showcasing the artistic talents of some of Domino’s pizza makers. Honestly, why not? It has all seemed to work as Domino’s U.S. sales momentum continues in 2015.

While some retailers may not subscribe to the public shaming aspect of rebranding, at the very least, they can audit their locations to make everything is on track with promotional milestones.

Topics: Restaurants

Back-to-School Shopping 101: What Retailers Should Know

By Julia Burnett


Just when school lets out, back-to-school advertising begins. Already on July 14, AdvertisingAge published an article on Target’s back-to-school campaign. There’s no such thing as “too early” when, in Target’s case, back-to-school is your second-largest selling season.

Indeed, “‘tis the season” applies to these mid-summer months. School supplies, apparel, eyeglasses, shoes, backpacks and electronics are all on consumers’ lists. Consumers have a lot to buy and a lot of places where they can spend their money. Add online retailers into the fold, and the options for scoring deals are seemingly endless.

Customers win in this kind of competitive environment, but where does that leave your retail business?

Take a page from Target’s playbook. The retailer is combining the power of social media and “School List Assist” on Target.com. This new tool provides a curated list of school supplies, which parents can order online for home delivery or in-store pickup.

"Parents are on a budget, and they’re trying to get all the things on their list," said Rick Gomez, senior vice president, marketing. “We will have a steady drum beat of promotional offers throughout the season."

Back-to-School Shopping: The Perennial American Pastime

Think of back-to-school shopping like it’s the lengthy Major League Baseball season. The players need to condition and prepare. Baseball teams see what’s working on their rosters and make cuts and additions as necessary. The lineup that takes the field in April can look like a lot different than the team in September.

Similarly, the merchandise mix you have set up now is likely to change come September for the simple reason that consumer preferences change each year. According to a survey by the International Council of Shopping Centers, 70 percent of consumers plan to spend more time this year on back-to-school items, including wardrobes that keep up with the latest fashion trends and supplies that satisfy new school requirements.

Consumers Prefer the In-Store Experience

Importantly, the ICSC survey revealed that consumers still prefer physical stores for back-to-school shopping. An overwhelming 83 percent of their purchases involve physical stores, including 7 percent of purchases that will be made online and picked up in-store.

Two other important findings from the survey are that 42 percent of respondents prefer to physically examine merchandise before they purchase it, while 37 percent like the convenience of one-stop shopping.

It’s more reason why retailers should audit their stores during these busy months. It really comes down to two goals:

  1. Making sure retail promotions are displayed and priced correctly.
  2. Maintaining a neat and orderly environment during the back-to-school rush.

Execute these two objectives, and you’ll be the cool kid in school. And if you’re not cool, at least you’ll be rich!

Sample Retail Inspection Form

Sample Retail Store Evaluation Form

Topics: Retail

Motivating Your Retail Employees

By Julia Burnett


President Teddy Roosevelt will forever be tied to Big Stick ideology, which has the mantra “speak softly and carry a big stick.” It was his foreign affairs philosophy that you negotiate peacefully while threatening the “big stick” of military action if needed.

Prior to his appearance on the hit TV show “Undercover Bosses,” CEO Mitchell Modell of Modell’s Sporting Goods was more of a leader who spoke loudly while carrying the big stick. As the fourth generation leader of his family-owned business, he aggressively cut spending with the goal of driving profits. As of the episode’s filming, Modell’s operated 154 stores in 11 states. Revenues exceed $600 million.

What Modell didn’t realize, however, was that his no-nonsense, profit-driven approach had become too far removed from the everyday operations of his business. He went undercover to find out why some stores were underperforming, but learned a great deal more in the process about his associates.

One of his first assignments was working with an assistant manager in Connecticut. The manager, James, called Modell’s New England stores the “red-headed stepchild” of Modell’s, a New York-based company. The stores were understocked and James felt frustrated by upper management’s lack of attention to the problems happening in his store.

Taking the “Big Stick” approach, Modell got on his cell phone and started complaining to someone on his team that district managers were not doing their part to audit stores.

Don’t Lose Sight of the Team Effort

Digging deeper, Modell discovered a systemic problem affecting not only his retail associates, but also his warehouse employees and truck drivers. The issue was low pay. Employees who were not managers were making minimum wage, even though their jobs required hours on their feet and other physical demands. One retail associate has resorted to living in a homeless shelter in order to support her young children.

“When I look at the situation at our distribution center, I’ve got to change this,” said Modell. “I’m going to make sure that we’re a company where people feel good about coming to work and feeling that’s if they’re going to work hard, they’re going to be recognized and rewarded. Right now, that is not the case and I feel horrible.”

Remember Your Associates are People, Not Numbers

In retail, employee turnover is high and margins can be tight. It’s all too easy for senior management to just focus on the latest reports.

One truck driver named Kirk said upper management was clueless. “They only look at the bottom line and when they only look at the bottom line they lose focus of what really happens,” he said.

Rather than try to solve the problem from the “ivy tower” of a New York City office, they have to take action as Modell did. This doesn’t mean they have to shave their heads and wear a walrus moustache in disguise. Instead, they need to enable their district and store managers to be their eyes and ears in the field.

Perhaps motivating your retail employees comes down to three basic principles:

  1. Pay them enough to reduce turnover and incentivize your motivated talented employees to stay.
  2. Take the time to ask your employees how you can make their job easier.
  3. Energize your employees by motivating yourself. Show them you care enough about your business to follow through on their feedback. It sends the message: “What we do here is important and you are a part of our success.”

Following the show, Modell decided to motivate himself to lose weight, given the physical demands of his associates’ jobs, which he found challenging. He changed the employee compensation structure of his company, and emerged from the experience re-energized, re-committed to his associates and full of lessons for his two young sons, the future leaders of the family business.

Topics: Business Operations, Retail

The Impact of Food Delivery Apps on Operations and Brand Image

By Julia Burnett


Food delivery is a natural progression in an age of convenience through mobile technology. Essentially, restaurants had a twofold, industry-wide problem that needed to be solved:

  1. How could restaurants expand their client base to offer take-out that’s fresh, delicious and breaks away from frozen foods?
  2. How does a restaurant execute a delivery service that meets brand expectations?

If the restaurant doesn’t deliver on a quality product, it risks losing a customer for good. In the age of Yelp, where grievances against brands are aired quite publicly, this is a risk not many restaurants are willing to take.

Ultimately, this is why more restaurants are outsourcing delivery to third-party companies. We see this in a variety of recent examples:

This is not to mention the countless other food delivery services, including the GrubHub portfolio featuring GrubHub, Seamless, MenuPages, DiningIn, Allmenus and Restaurants on the Run.

Sticking to What You Know

The convenience for both restaurant and customer is advantageous, and the food delivery app landscape is getting very crowded very quickly. Also competing are chef-made meal services, as well as services like Blue Apron and Good Eggs that deliver ingredients for home cooking.

As the restaurant industry becomes niche, from the types of cuisines to the type of dining environment, apps are following suit. For instance, Caviar is a premium food delivery service that partners with high-end restaurants.

In light of this trend, it’s becoming increasingly important for restaurants to have their operations down to a science. If hot, fresh food is going to be delivered within a small window, it needs to be prepared promptly and accurately across the chain.

In addition, if a restaurant decides to use a third-party ordering system, they have to be prepared to audit and test that system. For instance, a customer may not remember that it was the Postmates service that messed up their Chipotle order; they might hold this experience against Chipotle, even though the order is not placed through the restaurant chain’s corporate website.

At the end of the day, the buck stops at the brand!

Topics: Restaurants

What’s the Beef? Restaurants Consider Other Protein Options

By Julia Burnett


While there’s nothing like a good steak or hamburger, U.S. consumers have been steadily cutting down on red meat and looking for other sources of protein. According to QSR Web, the push against red meat has led the restaurant industry to embrace alternatives, like turkey, which is leaner, less expensive and generally healthier than red meat. Some restaurants are also getting adventurous with ostrich, boar and bison… oh my!

Compared to chicken, beef prices have risen drastically over the past 20 years due to the decreasing total inventory of calf and cattle in America. Generally speaking, chicken is cheaper to buy and produce. It’s no wonder that per capita chicken consumption in the U.S. more than tripled in the last century.

Also, red meat has been correlated to medical conditions like high blood pressure and heart disease. According to Authority Nutrition, it’s important to note that some of these headlines have been sensationalized and organic, grass-fed and unprocessed beef can be nutritious. However, processed and overcooked red meats have been linked to heart disease.

The movement away from red meat is evident in the numbers. The nation's total beef consumption declined from 27.3 billion pounds in 2008 to 25.5 billion pounds in 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Research firm Mintel’s survey of 2,000 adults revealed that 36 percent ate less beef in 2013 than in 2012.

There’s also a sustainability factor in cutting back on red meat and meat in general. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which helps to revise the nation’s official Dietary Guidelines every five years, said Americans should eat less meat in order to benefit the environment. Of course, the recommendation caused an outcry from Congress and the meat industry.

The meatless trend is one that the restaurant industry should study closely. Again, the proof is in the numbers.

Sales of Meatless and Vegetarian Products are Soaring

Increased awareness of the humane treatment of animals has also contributed to a reduction in meat consumption. According to Mintel, sales of plant-based meat alternatives reached $553 million in 2012, growing 8 percent in a two-year period.

It’s not all about eating sprouts, either. “Meatless meats” are a huge trend.

Food comedian Jim Gaffigan pokes some fun at this trend. "But you know who seems to be really obsessed with meat? Vegetarians,” he quipped. “For people who don't like meat, they seem to eat a lot of vegetables that are mashed up and shaped to look like meat. 'I don’t like meat, I just like to call meat late at night and hang up. Let’s drive by meat’s house. Does meat ever ask about me?'”

Companies like Beyond Meat are laughing all the way to the bank. The company reported doubling its annual sales, reported Fortune. The vegetarian market is a $2.8-billion industry and 22.3 million Americans say they are inclined to follow a vegetarian diet.

Convenient vegan and vegetarian options are the way of the future. According to author and activist Gene Bauer, more convenient non-meat options are coming. Vegan fast-food restaurants are popping up around the country and fast-food giants are getting on board as well. For instance, Wendy’s is testing a black bean veggie burger.

It’s all food for thought in a changing consumer landscape.

Topics: Restaurants

How Frozen Yogurt Became a Mainstream Hipster

By Julia Burnett


Frozen yogurt is no longer a niche trend. The smaller players have died out, and the larger chains survive. Perhaps it’s survival of the fittest, but I have a different theory.

Frozen yogurt is the hipster of foodservice and become mainstream – just like hipsters.

Think about it. There doesn’t seem to be as many actual hipsters these days. The movement was absorbed by the larger surrounding culture. While you might not want to admit it, hipsters are the reason you bought those thick-framed glasses and why more of your friends have beards. You can also trace the non-GMOs and organic food movement back to hipsters, as well as the craft beer movement.

Similarly, frozen yogurt essentially went “mainstream,” which resulted in smaller “fad” stores dying out, and a few larger chains surviving. Market researcher IBISWorld estimates that the top four players account for an estimated 45.7 percent of market share. The frozen yogurt market has not reached saturation yet, but it’s projected to get there by 2019.

If You Want to Play in the Big Leagues, Operate Like Them

The fact remains that smaller players are forced to scale their business in order to survive. Key to scaling any foodservice business is ensuring brand consistency across the franchise. Consistency is achieved through regular store audits.

here are a few important areas to consider:

Quality and Quantity

Don’t be that place. You know the one. It gets the Yelp review (this is a real one) about “dirty, gross contaminated containers for dry goods” or “barely any fresh chilled toppings.” The yogurt consistency varies from “firm, frozen, creamy to drippy, liquid, grainy.” You could serve a pint of fro-you left in a college dorm freezer for that kind of experience.

3 Spoons of Success

  1. Be consistent in cleanliness. This includes making sure your employees wash their hands and wear gloves when handling/refilling some of dry toppings.
  2. Stock enough inventory and communicate with your vendors.
  3. Take photos of problems in the store, from broken topping dispensers to drippy product. A visual aide describing the problem could lead to a faster solution.

Precision of Measurement

While it’s not brain surgery, measuring accurately is a bigger problem than you might think. Most shops use the self-serve model with toppings. If the customer puts too many or too little toppings on their fro-yo, that’s on them. The problems arise at the register, however. The standard is to measure the weight of the yogurt and toppings while subtracting the weight of the cup.

A study by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services found that 75 of about 100 yogurt shops were not using their scales properly. Point-of-sale training needs to be priority No. 1 for new employees. Customers will likely not ask for a detailed explanation of how the scale works, so this is really the responsibility of the operator. You don’t want to get a reputation for bilking customers.

The Takeaway

As IBISWorld points out, health concerns and consumption patterns will continue to drive frozen yogurt industry growth over the next five years. It’s a $2 billion dollar industry. You can get a scoop if you get a handle on your operations.

Topics: Restaurants

A Pizza Chain’s 3 Slices of Success

By Julia Burnett

pizza slice
Photo by The Pizza Review, on Flickr

If there’s one food that can be served very well or very badly, it’s pizza. The crust has to be just right, the toppings need to taste good and be evenly distributed, and higher quality needs to justify a higher price point.

A pizzeria’s three slices of success come down to quality, service and price. According to PMQ Pizza Magazine, it’s OK if a pizzeria can’t hit on all three, but offering the “absolute best” on two will make customers take notice.

You may think, “So, if I focus on service and price I don’t have to deliver on quality?” Of course, that’s not really the point. You can’t let your guard down in any one area and should strive to deliver on your brand’s standard of quality across your franchise.

For instance, if you’re operating a Pizza Hut, the mere mention of a salted pretzel crust stuffed with cheese might send a New York food critic running for the hills. Just like beauty is in the eye of the beholder, “quality” may be in the taste buds of the customer.

Daym Drops Knows What’s Up

Daymon “Daym” Patterson, otherwise known as Daym Drops, is someone who understands the three slices of a successful pizzeria. Big Daym creates viral video reviews of popular foods on his YouTube channel. In fact, one of his most-watched videos – 1.4 million views -- is his review of Little Caesars Bacon Wrapped Crust Deep Dish Pizza, which rolled out in February.

Daym knows what’s important to his viewers, and he gets right to the point.

1. Quality

From the tomato sauce and cheese to the crust, Daym is all about flavor and execution. When a pizza brand tells him that the product is covered in bacon bits, he expects to see bacon bits when he first opens the box.

2. Service

He will also mention when service is good and when it’s not. For instance, he pointed out when Little Caesars advised him to purchase a combo meal and when they put a fresh pie in the oven for him rather than selling him one that had been sitting under the heat lamp.

3. Price

Daym often begins video with his receipt. He pointed out when a large pizza, beverage and tax from Pizza Hut cost more than $15.

While Daym’s flamboyant personality has made him a YouTube star, he is a customer just like everyone else. Quality is top-of-mind for him, followed by service, and price. He is willing to buy more for better-quality food, but if a brand fails in delivering the quality he expects, he doesn’t hold back in letting his viewers know.

A Tip for Takeout

The three slices of pizza success come down to regularly inspecting your pizza franchise. While a basic sales report can provide insights about pricing and promotions, it doesn’t provide a full picture of a brand’s execution on quality and customer service. Check out what’s going on in your stores on a regular basis, but especially when a new product launches.

Pizza is a staple of the American diet and demand is seemingly endless. Set the pie bar high, and you’ll reap the rewards.

Topics: Restaurants