CHICAGO — The pace of change and “how that’s going to continue to bring us to the future” worries Chris Gheysens.
“Customers are getting more picky and more demanding … and all of us as business leaders are moving more quickly,” said Gheysens, president and CEO of Wawa, Pa.-based Wawa, during the “Signature 2019: The Future of Dining” session at the 2019 National Restaurant Association Show.
Featuring four panelists from leading chains in the restaurant, grocery and convenience-store industries, the session explored what success in foodservice means today and how it might evolve down the road. Gleaned from insights from the panelists, here are four ways operators can keep their businesses humming …
Deliver on delivery
Today’s consumers are increasingly demanding: They want their food when they want it and where they want it. And delivery plays a big role in that no matter the operator.
“That’s convenience for us,” Gheysens said. “If you’re going to be a convenience store, it’s not just residing in your four walls.”
Wawa has been partnering with third-party delivery companies such as Grubhub and Uber Eats for the past few years. “We’ve been successful; we’ve learned a lot,” Gheysens said. One of those lessons: “If you are anywhere near an university, you are going to do well with delivery.”
- Wawa is No. 9 in the Top 40 update to CSP's 2018 Top 202 ranking of c-store chains by number of retail outlets.
But operators can’t just jump into delivery. Randy Edeker, president and CEO of West Des Moines, Iowa-based Hy-Vee, which offers grocery delivery, stressed the importance of doing it well.
“The key to it all is keeping a focus on excellence and making sure that you deliver quality,” he said.
Execute, execute, execute
Moderator Dawn Sweeney, president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association, asked each panelist which, on a daily basis, is most important to their business: ideas, execution or resources. The answer was unanimous.
“Execution is the name of the game in what we do in our industry,” said Tim McEnery, founder and CEO of Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants, Countryside, Ill. “Executing and operating a restaurant … is the hardest thing on the planet.”
John Cywinski, president of Glendale, Calif.-based Applebee’s Bar & Grill, echoed the sentiment.
“The best brands always within our industry are those who execute consistently well,” Cywinski said. “It’s one guest, one shift, one day at time.”
Have the right people in place
Cywinski attributes Applebee’s success to having strong leaders in the general-manager role, especially when it comes to its franchise locations.
“I can have an average location or a not-so-pretty restaurant, but if I’ve got a great GM, it’s going to hum. It’s going to be profitable,” he said. “They create a culture that people want to be a part of, and they know their guests by name. … They’ll know what drink they want, they’ll know what they are ordering and they’ll know what time they are coming in. That’s the secret.”
For finding that top talent, McEnery said Cooper’s Hawk identified four values: We care about people; we’re committed to being the best; we’re are different; and we have fun and celebrate.
“Those filters are part of everything that we do at Cooper’s Hawk, from the interview process to the training process to even the onboarding process,” he said. “There’s clear direction throughout the company as how you can be successful at Cooper’s Hawk and if Cooper’s Hawk is the right place for you to be.”
As technology advances, fewer employees will likely be required to keep a c-store, restaurant or grocery store operating. But each panelist emphasized the importance of human connection.
“It’s making that person who chose you that day feel like that was the right decision, that they are wanted and needed to be there, and that they leave with an experience that’s favorable. That will bring them back,” Edeker of Hy-Vee said.
Even 10 years down the road, emotional intelligence will be a skill Gheysens will look for in future Wawa employees.
“It really is proven that strong emotional intelligence leads to great leadership, whether that’s at a store restaurant level or in our corporate office,” he said.