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National Restaurant Association - How important is innovation to you?

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How important is innovation to you?



We asked industry execs how they innovate at their businesses a
t our Restaurant Innovation Summit. Weighing in how innovation drives sales: Mike Lee, CEO of CPG firm Future Market; Leon Chen, chairman and CEO of Tiff’s Treats; Jeffrey Amoscato, Shake Shack’s vice president of supply chain and menu innovation; and Dominique Vitry, Raising Cane’s vice president of research and development.

Key disruptive trends in business today 

Jeffrey Amoscato: Delivery is the biggest disruptor for us. Obviously, a lot of people want delivery; they don’t want to leave their offices or homes for whatever reason: they’re too busy, it’s raining, etc. We’ve tested out various delivery methods and learned a lot. It’s forcing innovation of packaging. Our packaging was developed for sitting in a Shake Shack and eating it there or maybe taking it away. It wasn’t developed to be put inside an insulated bag. It’s changing the way we look at the items we’re developing: how they’re going to travel and hold.

Leon Chen: Delivery affects us a little differently because it’s part of the product we sell. We deliver cookies warm, but sometimes third-party delivery purchases already-made cookies rather than wait for us to bake them. Then we get a complaint [from the customer] that the cookies are cold, and we don’t even know who they are. So, we have to work around that.

Dominque Vitry: Concepts like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh and grocery stores with restaurants are changing the customer experience. You can even go into a gas station and have a premium food experience. It’s fascinating.


How to innovate with a limited menu 

Jeffrey Amoscato: We’ve introduced chili and offered a hot-style chicken as a limited time offer. We’re looking to add alternatives to our core menu of burgers, fries and shakes and asking what other categories we can add. We want to understand more about changing eating habits and shifting dayparts. There’s really not traditional breakfast, lunch and dinner anymore. There are middle dayparts and snacking. We have to be able to answer our guests’ needs and capture more of their time.

Dominique Vitry: Raising Cane’s has five items on its menu: chicken fingers, fries, coleslaw, sauce and Texas toast. We’re constantly finding new ways to make them more delightful for our customers and crew.

Leon Chen: We, too, have a very focused menu. When we started, we had nine flavors on our menu. Today we have 10. But, over the years, we’ve realized customers like to experiment. We have special flavors about 12 to 15 times a year and do limited time offers to drive brand affinity rather than sales or profits.


How best to tackle innovation

Mike Lee: Think more aggressively than you’re normally allowed to without bringing down the house. That’s where ideas crystalize. Start dialogue with customers and potential customers. That’s a key thing to have; it’s a natural innovation sandbox.


Convincing resisters to innovate 

Dominique Vitry: When talking to groups that are hesitant, find out what their biggest fears are. Sometimes those fears aren’t grounded in fact. Help them see that the future won’t make those fears come true. Don’t go all the way in with something you know will make them uncomfortable. Gain their comfort and they’ll trust your confidence.

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