In the five decades since Red Robin was founded, the Greenwood Village, Colorado-based casual dining chain has seen its share of changes in the food industry. There has been no shortage of food fads, dietary crazes and “restaurant of the future” concepts that have played out nationwide, most of which the brand has politely passed on.
But digitization hasn’t turned out to be a fad, particularly in the QSR space, where mobile phones have become a rival to forks and knives when it comes to ranking important tools for enabling eating. Red Robin’s first priority is to serve up what the customer wants – and there is no denying that, as of 2019, the customer wants flexibility in how they order and collect their food.
And that has presented a challenge to the Red Robin brand. On one hand, in the last 18 months or so, the restaurant has moved decidedly in the direction of digitization. In April of 2017, Red Robin launched its order-ahead feature, which allowed consumers to order online and select a pick-up time at a local location.
“What makes Red Robin special is that from the top down, they are fully committed to not just bringing it in as a side project, but really adapting the business to this,” Olo CEO Noah Glass told PYMNTS shortly after the news was announced. (Olo was the mobile order-ahead technology firm that Red Robin enlisted to enable mobile order-ahead.) “Starting with the CEO Denny Post, they have really bought into digital ordering being a revolutionary moment within the industry — not just an evolutionary moment. She sees it as a critical strategic element of Red Robin’s future,” Glass added.
And the expanded offering was critical because it is clear that a certain subset of consumers most want ease of access in ordering, picking up and every step along the way. A customer who is ordering online probably isn’t in the market for a sit-down meal – and not offering them an easy way to order and go is an easy way to send them to another merchant.
The challenge for Red Robin, however, is that the takeout experience, for all its convenience, may not be the best way to really enjoy what the brand considers its core offering: high-quality hamburgers assembled by hand with care. Which means, while they have been upgrading their technology and digital capacities, the focus hasn’t only been on sending food out to customers. A bigger area of investment has been leveraging the technology and digital data streams that are now available, with the goal of bringing customers into their physical locations for the optimal experience.
“The first place that we delved deep was our service standards. In our race to bill-to-go, we lost some focus on what made Red Robin, Red Robin,” CEO Denny Marie Post noted. “While we seek to serve the growing demand for carry-out, we also must turn tables at peak times for those guests who choose to dine in with us … we increased in-store training using our new learning management system. Our servers were trained on the basics of greeting, one-stop ordering and three-level bussing. Our hosts are being trained via the new system on dine-in seating and to-go standards. To be both a preferred destination and a source of customizable gourmet burgers, we must be great at dine-in and off-premise service.”
Though she was light on specifics, Post noted that as of now, the “Forever Yummm” food truck is cruising America’s highways and byways on a nine-state, 9,200-mile, three-and-a-half month tour. Apart from bringing a slightly new meaning to mobile dining innovation, the truck is designed to allow fans to “experience all the ‘yummm’ and fun surrounding Red Robin’s 50th celebration,” with free samples and, hopefully, a chance for a new demographic to become familiar with the brand and its gourmet burgers served up fresh, the way they were designed to be eaten.
The truck started its national tour in Washington State, where the brand began, and will hit Oregon, California, Arizona, North Carolina, New York, Michigan, Oklahoma and Colorado before ending in early April.
And there’s more to come in 2019 – though what that will entail remains to be seen.