Stories from the Covid-19 Front Lines: CEO Q&A with Brandon Solano of Rave
Name: Brandon Solano
Brand: Rave Restaurant Group (Pizza Inn and Pie Five)
Segment: Fast casual restaurants
Units: 153 Pizza Inn, 53 Pie 5
Locations: Pizza Inn – 13 states and 34 international units in the Middle East (Kuwait, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Oman). Pie 5 – 13 states
How has Covid-19 affected your brand?
At Pizza Inn, locations that already focused on delivery and carry-out were poised to meet the current need. We added the Contactless Buffet To-Go to offer the same variety and value of our All-Day Buffet to guests in the safety and comfort of their home. The Contactless Buffet To Go was a program our Pizza Inn Franchise Leadership Council was heavily involved in as a solution to offer the buffet experience in a unique and relevant way for guests. Additionally, we added new procedures to allow for a safe, contactless delivery or carry-out experience. Team members maintain a minimum distance of 6 feet when guests pick up orders, and we’re encouraging guests to prepay over the phone, in lieu of cash.
At Pie Five, we’ve introduced everyday value offers through our online ordering platform, making $5, 1-topping personal pizzas and $9.99, 2-topping large pizzas available all day, every day. Many franchisees have also dropped delivery fees to make themselves more accessible to guests who are asked to stay at home.
What are you doing to help your franchisees through this?
At both brands, we immediately revised our marketing calendars and our offerings to maximize value to guests and drive sales. We also moved quickly to execute agreements with delivery service providers with favorable terms for our franchisees, such as lower commissions, online brand protection, and launch marketing initiatives. We recognize the need for off-premise and are doing what we can to expand the commerce footprint for franchisees.
In the current environment, everyone is competing for a small share of restaurant dining. We want to help our franchisees be successful in their local markets by creating compelling offers that provide value to guests, matching the needs of both small and large families. We’ve actively marketed offers in each local community and shared new ideas and best practices. Three of our new offers we created for Pizza Inn were immediately in the top five of our most redeemed offers online, accounting for nearly 40% of all redemptions.
Our Pie Five franchisees in the Kansas City market created Build-Your-Own Pizza kits. The idea came from their team, but the brand’s head of operations and franchise business consultant were very hands-on and worked tirelessly to coordinate support team departments, from IT to marketing and purchasing.
Most importantly, we’ve maintained an open dialogue with our franchisees. Some have brought great ideas to us that are working for their location, and we’ll communicate those to the rest of the system. For example, one franchisee put up some simple yard signs and banners letting everyone know they were still open for takeout and delivery. So we sent a communication out to the system with the idea, along with print-ready assets they could easily get up immediately. Another franchisee put up a tent in his parking lot and sold pizzas from there for certain lunch and dinner hours, creating a makeshift “drive-thru” for added convenience for guests.
We send out regular communications to both brands on new marketing initiatives, environment dynamics, and the impact of the CARES Act on franchisees, including information on how they can apply for various governmental relief programs. After the bill passed on March 27, we had an all-franchisee call for each brand shortly afterward to talk through the specifics of the stimulus program and answer any questions.
How are you supporting your corporate employees?
The Rave office is officially closed temporarily for the health and safety of our team members. In the beginning of the crisis, office attendance was optional, but employees continued to come in, including the executive team. We felt that some team members were feeling pressure to be here, so the decision was made to officially close and keep team members in their homes and away from potentially higher-risk environments.
How are your franchisees supporting their employees?
We have a franchisee in Pikeville, North Carolina who has not laid off any team members or significantly reduced hours. Some things they are doing to keep team members active are writing personal notes on each guest’s order (personal connections are really challenged during this time), building meal kits for local soup kitchens, and making videos to highlight employees hard at work during this time (clips that show who is making your pizza today). They also are hoping to have enough supplies to make masks in the unused portion of the restaurant.
What are your franchisees doing for their customers?
Every one of our franchisees is important to their communities. We’re proud of all of them for the resiliency they’ve displayed in this pandemic. One particular franchisee in Kentucky is always making trips to nearby healthcare facilities and food banks to feed the heroes on the front lines. Here’s a post on the restaurant’s Facebook page of them taking pizzas to feed the St. Joe ER staff. It’s stories like this that exemplify why we do what we do.
How do you see the future of your brand, operations, market, etc. post-Covid-19?
We’ll come out stronger. We will have weathered the storm as individuals, and as stronger brands, which I believe will strengthen our foundation. Our job at that point will be to build on the momentum, which we will be well-positioned to do because of the better understanding we’ll have of our guests and their preferences. Our marketing messages and operational procedures will adapt to be relevant in the environment, but I believe our best assets will be the grit and resilience of the team to explore new ways to add value to both franchisees and guests.
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