Female Fast Risers - Carissa De Santis
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Female Fast Risers - Carissa De Santis

Female Fast Risers - Carissa De Santis

Name: Carissa De Santis

Brand: Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants

Title: Chief Information Officer

Age: 39

Years in franchising: 15, 1.5 at Dickey’s

No. of units: 500

What attracted you to franchising? I grew up working in the restaurant industry and started on the operations side. My father worked for Darden and was part of the team that opened the first Olive Garden, so restaurants are in my blood. I really enjoy working with all of our talented owner/operators and helping individuals achieve their dreams of owning their own business. My role is really focused on providing tools to harness the data to run an efficient and profitable business.

What was your first job in franchising? My first foray into franchising was during my time at Friday’s when I was opening and training new franchise locations. I actually spent the first half of my career in operations. It wasn’t until I was offered the opportunity to retire from the field and move to IT that I made the switch. My experience in operations has given me a unique vantage point that has proven to be invaluable when building technology that’s useful and beneficial in practice at our stores. I believe that, when maximized, technology can have a positive impact on both the guest experience and the operator’s bottom line.

What do you attribute your success to? I’m typically not the loudest voice at the table, but I think my accomplishments demonstrate that if the work is good, it speaks for itself. The restaurant space is highly competitive and full of incredible talent. So it’s important to remember that your output is what you’re judged on, and if you focus on that everything else will fall into place. Our Technology Advisory Committee is a great check and balance for me. Our owner operators are in their restaurants every day wearing all hats at once, so their input during our tech tests has been extremely influential and a big part of our success. 

What challenges and obstacles have you overcome in your career? In the restaurant industry, franchisees have traditionally been behind the curve in technology and the trends, so I’ve really had to lean heavily on my operations background to relate to the benefits of investing in the upcoming or unknown to advance our business and industry. Last year brought forth a lot of changes for everyone. In March it really became evident that the world was different and that we needed to react more quickly than we ever have before. In only 3 months, my team and I completely overhauled and redesigned Dickey’s e-commerce site to optimize functionality for mobile users. The upgraded site features enhanced speed and performance, an elevated user experience with fewer clicks, and an easier navigation to follow, all of which contributed to a 42% increase in Dickey’s digital sales and 122% increase in site traffic. The pace was fast and furious, but I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve accomplished.

Describe your journey to your current position: I received my degree in hospitality management from the University of Central Florida’s Rosen School of Hospitality Management. I spent more than 20 years in the restaurant industry at TGI Fridays in both operations and technology and served in various leadership roles. In 2019, I met Laura Rea Dickey at a hospitality technology conference. She was being honored with a lifetime achievement award, and I was named a Rising Star on their 2019 Top Women in Restaurant Technology list. I was really inspired by Laura and excited for the opportunity to work on a rapidly growing brand led by a woman who believed in technology. In June 2019 I joined Dickey’s as vice president of information technology and have had the opportunity to take ownership of Dickey’s technology platforms and digital assets. Over the past year and a half, my track record of results has earned me the position of CIO.

What are your future career goals? I am excited about artificial intelligence. I believe that connection and automation—for example in kitchens or order processes or even scheduling—allow restaurant team members to redirect their time and efforts back to quality and culinary innovation. We’ve scratched the surface with this type of technology at Dickey’s to improve our back-of-house processes. However, the advancements being made in AI are outpacing most everyone’s expectations, so I’m looking forward to using my role to bring new technology and advancements to our company.

Advice to young female executives in franchising: Don’t be afraid to try and just go for it. Every great initiative started with an idea. Test things out and if they fail, try again. We are living in a world where almost anything is possible. It is a very exciting time.

Published: March 7th, 2021

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