The Omni-channel Restaurant with Warwick McLaren

SPEAKERS

Warwick McLaren, Zack Oates

Warwick McLaren (preview)

Again, you have to recognize that, you know, the goalposts have moved now. And so the way that we were doing business 12, 24, 36 months ago, has changed forever now. And so, trying to run your business the same way is going to be very, very difficult now.

Zack Oates

(Intro) What’s up? Zack Oates here – author, entrepreneur and customer relationship guru. Welcome to Give an Ovation: growth strategies for restaurants and retailers, where we find industry leaders to share their secrets to grow your business. This podcast is sponsored by Ovation, the actionable guest feedback tool that works on or off premise and is easy, real-time, and actually drives revenue. Learn more at Ovationup.com.

Welcome to another edition of Give an Ovation! I am joined today by Warwick McLaren. And yes, that name does sound like a movie star name. And yes, he pretty much is a rock star. But let me tell you about why. He’s the VP of Omni-channel marketing at Global Franchise Group, which includes brands such as Round Table Pizza, Great American Cookie, Marble Slab Creamery, Pretzelmaker, hot dog on a stick. He was previously with Pepsi and Cisco and a lifelong fan of the Richmond Tigers, the Aussie football club.

Now Warwick and I actually met in March of 2020, at the last conference that either of us went to at a hand sanitizer station. And as we were sitting there were like, is this hand sanitizer thing actually gonna like be a thing? As we were standing there, maskless, right next to each other. It’s like a scene out of a horror movie now. But we met and we kept in touch all this time. And I’ve been following him on LinkedIn. And so I had to bring him on to the Give an Ovation podcast to share some of the lessons learned over the last year and a half. Warwick, so glad that you’re with us today, mate.

Warwick McLaren

Well, that is probably one of the most sensational introductions I’ve ever heard. I don’t know if I’m gonna live up to the hype. But I appreciate it nonetheless. But yeah, hard to believe. Holy smokes, Motech last year was the last time I was at a physical event. And yeah, we were just kind of joking before we started here about how, like what has transpired since then – Holy moly. So yeah, quite surreal. Really, when you thinking back, like what’s what’s happened over the last year and a half now.

Zack Oates

So, yeah. And you have, especially with the brands that you’re working with, and with your role as omni channel marketing, I guess, let me just kind of take a step back. What do you do? Like, what keeps you busy, Warwick?

Warwick McLaren

Yeah, it’s just, it’s, non-stop focus on on digital initiatives. And, you know, I think that was, that was the big thing for us last year, was, it, just with with everything that changed and restaurants closing and, you know, we had to pivot into so many different initiatives last year. And so it’s, you know, whether it’s media spend, or consumer engagement campaigns that we’re working on, or user experience things through our web properties app, all of that good stuff. There’s plenty to do. plenty to talk about. And yeah, a lot of, lot of good learnings that we had, especially over the last 12 months that – yeah, we can we can dive into a bit today. Yeah.

Zack Oates

So I actually, as you’re thinking through this last year, what have been some of your biggest takeaways?

Warwick McLaren

Yeah, I think I think honestly, I mean, off premise has just exploded. Yeah, I know – that’s a massive captain obvious statement. I’m not —

Zack Oates

Wait, hold on, I wasn’t sitting down. You need to say that again!

Warwick McLaren

Yeah, I mean, I think, you know, we’ve all recognized now that, you know, reaching our guests, you know, in at home or curbside whatever it might be, is just so critical. Now more than ever, and I think that, you know, we’re obviously seeing that, even as things are starting to open back up again, there’s still so many consumers that are gravitating to those channels, to those handoff modes. And I think it’s just an expectation. Now that even as dining rooms open, we’re still going to have to be very, very focused on those channels. And so I think, user experience and making sure that the consumer engagement touch points are super clean, frictionless, that they really feed into whatever programs that you are, that you’re running, whether it’s loyalty programs, or whatever it might be. The brands that are doing those things really well are winning right now. And so I think that’s, that’s really been, I think, the big takeaway. Especially when you look at some of the big brands out there, you know, Chipotle, Wingstop, these sort of guys are just doing it so well. Yeah, and I think everybody’s really just got to get after it now. So we’re meeting those guests at those critical touch points.

Zack Oates

And are you seeing as, as locations are starting to open back up that people can go in, And especially, I mean, you know, you’ve got some brands are very heavily focused on places like malls, right? As you have people coming back in, are you guys seeing a decline in online? Or is online kind of staying steady as in store starting to pick up?

Warwick McLaren

Yeah, it’s really good question. So, with Round Table Pizza, you know, which we do a heavy, heavy amount of online volume. And so dining rooms have started to to open back up again. Our lunch business has started to come back again, we have not seen any drop off in online ordering at all, which is, which has been really interesting. And the same flaw, if you think, Well, I think, you know, for us, our business is kind of unique, because we really do have two types of consumers. So we have a very affordable lunch offering. And then we have our dinner consumers. So, you know, I think they’re two different consumer groups based on price. And so we built up a very strong base of customers through the online channel over the last 12 months, and we lost the lunch business completely. And because I think about price point, those customers just didn’t level up into the dinner channel. But since dining rooms have now opened again, you know, we have that affordable price point to offer, once again, you know, we’re seeing some of that traffic come back. And that hasn’t cannibalized that dinner traffic. So that’s been really good for us.

Interestingly enough, on the snack side, you know, a lot of it still applies, you know, and I think we’ve seen more traffic start to come back, which is great. But we haven’t seen any drop off in the online business. So again, I think you’ve got this consumer that is still at home, still wants to order food, whether it’s through third party marketplaces or direct. And then you have some customers that are wanting to gravitate back to their old, you know, habits of wanting to get out and about and go shop and all that good stuff back in the mall again. But, again, I think what we’ve been able to focus on with the snack brands was that online ordering was still – we weren’t doing a ton of volume through those channels, we are doing a lot more volume through there now. And that channel is just continuing to grow. So I think it really shows even for our mall concepts, there’s still a huge user base that we can reach through the off premise channels as well, which is, which is good for us.

Zack Oates

Yeah. Which is interesting, because you would look at the brands that you guys are…There at Global Franchise Group, and you’re just thinking, oh man, I bet I bet they’re all gone, right? Because you think about like the cookies and the pretzels and the hot dog on a stick, and you think about, you know, going to the food court, right. But what do you do if you have a location that is very heavily reliant on foot traffic? How have you been able to pivot that and make that still successful when that foot traffic either changes or isn’t there? And especially, I think this is an interesting question for people who may be or by a large venue and they’ve historically relied on, you know, the sales based on the foot traffic from that venue. But if there’s no concerts happening, no sports games, limited seating, What are things that that people can do that are kind of hamstrung by their location? What should they be thinking about?

Warwick McLaren

Well, I think the most important thing that you have to recognize is where, where are your customers hanging out? You know, and I think this is the thing where we, we see across all of our brands, that there’s still platforms that our customers gravitate to. So whether that’s third party marketplaces, or whether that’s social media channels, or whatever it might be, I think the first step that you have to really unpack is, you know, where are they hanging out? Because to your point, the foot traffic is not there anymore, so you have to go find them, and you’ve got to go meet, meet them wherever they are.

So again, like, there’s a lot of steps that you have to sort of unpack before we get to the consumer engagement part. So I think getting very focused in on, you know, different media, media campaigns and things like that, that you want to run to create awareness are going to be critical because it all has to happen away from the restaurant now. So awareness and engagement are going to be key. I think the other piece then that you really have to marry into your strategy is focusing then on collecting some piece of data. So whether that’s through a loyalty program, or an e-club program, or whatever it might be. Getting a piece of information or mobile number for text club, that’s so critical now because you need to have a vehicle to be able to re-communicate with those guests. If the foot traffic’s gone, you don’t have just that flow of traffic coming in. Then, again, you have to go and meet them on their channel of preference and be able to communicate some information or something that’s relevant. So that they’ll want to then come and engage with the brand. And I think that’s really been the secret sauce over the last 12 months of focusing on acquisition to really build your databases is so important now, because there’s just a lot of guests who until they’re ready, are gonna still be at home. And that’s just a product of what we’re dealing with now. And so, yeah, I think that the brands that are really focused on that, as a part of their strategy are really setting themselves up for success.

Zack Oates

And to your point, it’s not just that people aren’t going to feel – even once they feel safe going out, like new habits have been formed, right? The option of ordering out and getting food delivered was like, kind of resigned to pizza, and Chinese food and, you know, starting maybe a little bit with like cookies, right, there’s some like cookie delivery. But now, it’s like, opened up everyone’s eyes to the fact like, oh, “If I want delivery, I don’t just have to get pizza.”

It’s -so I think there’s gonna be – there’s new habits that have been created. And they’re not going to go away just because people have been immunized and and they’re going back out in public. Because like, for example, I’ve got two kids, I don’t want to take my two-year-old and three year old out to dinner, and trust me, you don’t want them at your restaurant, right? And so we do a lot more dining now, and delivery and pickup and online ordering. And that’s not going to change. And I think that’s a really interesting thing.

Now, you had talked about Warwick, you know, meeting the customer where they’re at. And your title is interesting, because it specifically talks about omni-channel. Now, the problem with omni channel is, that’s like saying, hey, so where should I market? And the answer is “everywhere,” right? Omni-channel means every channel, and if I’ve got five locations, 10 locations, that is daunting. Yeah. Where do I start?

Warwick McLaren

Yeah, no, I mean, it’s, it’s a great question. Right. So I mean, and again, I think this is where, you know, getting some understanding of, like, I’d mentioned of where your guests are, is critical. And obviously, sometimes that requires a little bit of trial and error, you know, to really do some testing. It might require you to have to maybe dip your toe into, you know, the third party marketplace world if you’re not there presently, because they could, your customer base could very well be there. Now, it poses a whole bunch of different challenges, you know, which we won’t have time to get into today. But, but again, I think you’ve got to really start to unpack where where it is that your your guests are gonna hang out? Are they email people? Are they SMS people? Are they, you know, online ordering, folks? Are they Instagram? Are they Facebook? Are they Google? And so it sounds very daunting when you’re sort of like, Well, I haven’t really explored into those channels before, but I think that’s, that’s going to be more so than ever.

There’s, there’s certainly tons of vendors that are out there that can help small business owners get get going on these platforms, if they’re not familiar with them, or don’t even know where to start. But I think what’s important is you have to start somewhere.

And so I think that’s the whole point is that, um, you know, the game has shifted, and I think – and this is the part that’s very frustrating for a lot of, you know, restaurant operators right now is that they were so used to running their business a certain way. you know, your example was, was perfect about just, you know, I’m next to a movie theater, I have all this traffic, just gobs of it coming into my restaurant now. And now it’s not, so what do I do? You know, and so it’s a very daunting process to sort of have to then think about, well, how am I going to offset the transaction loss? So I think this is the thing where you’re right I mean, it’s, it’s easy to say well, just be everywhere, and then you’re golden.

But I think you know, again, um, you know, I always suggest to folks even just starting off with Facebook and Instagram, you know, just running some social ads, you know, getting partnered up with some some vendors that can help you with those sort of things are some – it’s an easy way to get going on the process to sort of start to get some impressions and some visibility again, in and around, you know, the towns that you have an operation in. Because both of those those platforms, just about all of us are on one or both of them still today. And at least get you some some visibility again to remind folks “Hey, we’re still Open, we have curbside.” Because folks might not know that you have those things available now. So. And I think that’s, that’s just part of it. So I think that’s, you know, where, you know, there’s resources or things that you can share with your listeners about, you know, some partners that they can get connected with that might be, might be helpful for them.

Zack Oates

I love that. What would be your final piece of advice to restaurant owners/operators listening?

Warwick McLaren

Yeah, I think, you know, again, just be very, very focused on on, you know, consumer engagement right now. And so I think you’ve got to take the game into your own hands and be prepared to just, you know, get out there. You know, try some different advertising channels that you may have not tried before, because again, you have to recognize that, you know, the goalposts have moved now. And so the way that we were doing business 12, 24,36 months ago, has changed forever now. And so trying to run your business the same way is going to be very, very difficult now, so everybody has to get comfortably uncomfortable now. And I think that’s going to be the key. And so getting yourself into channels that you haven’t done before. Getting in front of your customers, wherever it is that they’re hanging out is the key to success going forward.

Zack Oates

Love that here are my key takeaways, number one, winning brands, or making digital customer experience, frictionless. Right? Ain’t nobody got time for that is the resale of 2021. Number two, there, even though I think it’s so fast, and I see this over and over again, with multiple brands, even as dining rooms are opening back up, there has not been a dip in online orders because those habits that were formed are new habits forever opening up new avenues of revenue, not cannibalizing old ones. Number three, take a step back and find out where your customers are. And then go there get an avenue to re communicate with them. I like how you I like how you said that work. It’s about that re communicate with them. Get them back in number four. If you don’t know where to start, start with Facebook and Instagram. My sister is only on Instagram. She’s younger work and I are probably on Facebook and Instagram. Our parents are only on Facebook. But hey, start somewhere and and take that lane. And then lastly, fifth, get comfortably uncomfortable. You we need to focus on that consumer engagement and try new things because the way we do business has changed forever work. How do people find you follow you?

Warwick McLaren

Yeah, so you can follow me on LinkedIn. So feel free to hit me up if you’ve got any questions or just even want to set up a chat. I’m always happy to help and you know, just want brands and you know, single store operators to have success and I know it’s hard out there. So if you ever want to just have a chat or pick my brain I’m always happy to do that.

Zack Oates

Awesome. Well Wawrick for being open to helping out, for helping us all, for giving us some good information and for spicing up the US with a little bit of that Aussie love, today’s Ovation goes to you! Thanks for joining us today.

(Outro) Glad you were with us today. And thank you! Thank you to the risk takers, the troublemakers, the crazies who are keeping this world clothed and fed. You’re the ones who deserve an Ovation. Again, this podcast was sponsored by Ovation! To see how we can help you grow your business, go to Ovationup.com. Don’t forget to subscribe, and as always, remember to give someone in your life an Ovation today!

Find out why it’s so important for winning brands to make frictionless digital experiences with the VP of Omni-channel Marketing at Global Franchise Group, Warwick McLaren.

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Warwick McLaren is the VP of Omnichannel Marketing at Global Franchise Group, which includes brands such as Round Table Pizza, Marble Slab Creamery, and Pretzelmaker. He oversees the development and execution of digital strategies across GFG’s portfolio, and has learned a lot about digital customer engagement over throughout the pandemic. Lucky for us, he shared a few of his main takeaways from the last year about digital restaurants:

1) Winning Brands Make The Digital Experience Frictionless

Warwick has spent the last year focused on “non-stop” digital initiatives. With the switching costs of online ordering being so low, ease-of-use and digital accessibility is critical for consumers.

2) Dining Rooms Are Opening, But Online Ordering Is Still Up

Somewhat surprisingly (Give an Ovation guests have been predicting it for almost 100 episodes), the loosening of COVID-19 restrictions hasn’t slowed the amount off-premise activity happening in the industry. Consumers have discovered delivery and new habits have been formed.

3) Go Where Your Customers Are

In the old days, restaurants didn’t have to focus as much on outbound communications because the physical foot traffic passing by their location served as their top-of-funnel. But now, restaurants need to find where their customers are hanging out digitally and meet them there. This might be 3rd party marketplaces, social media, or somewhere else.

4) Start On Facebook and Instagram

If you don’t know which channel to start with in your journey towards “omni”, start here. Warwick says that running ads on these platforms is a great way to get some attention in the towns in which you’re operating.

5) Get Comfortably Uncomfortable

“The goal posts have moved now. So the way that we were doing business 12, 24, 36 months ago has changed forever. So trying to run your business the same way is going to be very very difficult now.”

For more from Warwick, you can reach out to him on LinkedIn as Warwick McLaren.

Thanks for reading! Make sure to check out the whole episode, as well as other interviews with restaurant gurus by checking out “Give an Ovation: A Podcast For Restaurants” on ovationup.com/podcast or your favorite place to listen to podcasts.

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