This time last year, we were in the process of envisioning our annual plan for Twisters Burgers & Burritos.
None of us could imagine the stunning impacts of COVID-19 and the resulting public health orders. After 35 years of experience in restaurant operations and an active member of the National Restaurant Association, I can say that operating in this environment has been the challenge of my career. Speaking for the industry locally and nationally, this pandemic has caused us to identify new priorities and create paths to survival.
Like many of you, our employees are the soul of the organization. During this time, we focused on creating a healthy workplace, out of concern for our employees and their families. Raising our game, we needed to provide for our employees and operate at a much higher level, providing additional attention to detail and improving our execution every day, every shift. This included our training while attracting and retaining our top talent, providing the best work experience for all our team members.
During the second week of March 2020, we saw our sales drop by 25% and quickly decided to close two of our 18 Albuquerque stores. We then altered store hours and developed strict practices to ensure the safety of our team and customers. Other shifts included operational changes, like building a food delivery system that could handle online ordering and curbside pickup. These adjustments don’t happen overnight and initially proved to be a challenge.
After about eight weeks, sales started to level-off. Having triaged the approach, we focused on three things: our customers, our food and our team. Seeing a 25% increase in drive-thru traffic, we rearranged staff schedules to decrease customer wait time, reduce congestion and addressed bottlenecks (is that a result of a line buster?) at high traffic stores.
The adjustments inside and outside of the store allowed us to ensure the food was prepared quickly and with the quality our customers expect. These changes allowed us to not only retain our 300-person workforce, it also allowed us to hire some top talent including two new district managers and eight new general managers, many of whom lost their jobs at high-end restaurants due to the pandemic restrictions.
Restaurants operate on razor thin margins. Doing the right thing coupled with public health orders has really changed the dynamic of how we deliver our quality product, consistently, day after day. Taking care of our people ensures our customers are getting our very best. Creating and conveying trust, especially during uncertain times, is critical. Things will continue to change and evolve in the industry and at Twisters and if we do a good job caring for our people, they will be with us for the future and for the all the changes needed to survive and adapt.
The 2021 path to a new normal in the restaurant industry will still have many challenges; if we are lucky, most will be in our control. Engaging our team as partners with a focus on creating a quality customer experience are our two key ingredients that will enable Twister’s resilience.
Bahjat Shariff is the Chief Operating Officer for Twisters Burgers & Burritos and serves on the National Restaurant Association Board of Directors. The executive’s desk is a guest column providing advice, commentary or information about resources available to the business community in New Mexico. To submit a column for consideration, email email@example.com.