Efficiency is a key part of the future for 1,000-plus-unit Firehouse Subs. The chain continues to focus on simplifying, both from the guest standpoint and for the crew. John Namey, vice president of real estate services for Firehouse Subs, says transforming guest engagement makes it a simpler process for franchisees to bring costs down and react — but not overreact — to changes in the industry. Off-premise dining and delivery rank among the biggest changes he sees.
FE&S: What’s the Firehouse Subs’ approach to delivery?
JN: We have a national partnership with Uber Eats to handle our deliveries, but we are still working through some of the design changes needed to make food production more efficient for online ordering and delivery items. Right now, if our guests order online, their bag will be ready when they come to pick it up, but we’re still working through the questions about how we can still maintain customer engagement with or without having a separate rack or cubby for online order pickups.
FE&S: With so many inroads in technology and delivery services these days, how do you continue to remain focused on hospitality so you don’t lose that quality customer engagement?
JN: We definitely want to continue to engage with our guest right when they walk in. We don’t use kiosks, although we have invested heavily in our online ordering program. We still welcome every customer when they come in and when they leave and we want to know our customers’ names. We don’t want to lose this relationship with our guests and this was a cornerstone of our new design.
FE&S: What are some of the interior changes in the works with the new prototype design in the Jacksonville, Fla., location?
JN: We enlisted Big Red Rooster, a design firm, to update our branding and look inside the restaurant. Right now, we have a lot of firehouse decor, as one might expect, but we’re actually looking to tone that down in order to be clearer about the message we’re sending. The decor package will have more of a curated, “less is more,” approach. We’re also making changes to the flow of the dining room. Right now, our guests walk through the dining room to get to the register to order, which is fairly unusual for a lot of chains. Instead, we’re looking to move the registers closer to the front of the restaurant to make the queuing more intuitive.
FE&S: What changes are in the works for the back of the house?
JN: A while back we started by redesigning our production line. We found that a lot of our crew members were crossing over each other and taking more steps than necessary, so we redesigned our line, moved the equipment around and invested in a new steamer model that would take up less space but also cook more foods in one unit. These changes have greatly improved our flow for better speed of service, and it helped prepare us to handle smaller spaces, like airports.
FE&S: Do you anticipate Firehouse Subs continuing expansion in nontraditional spaces, such as airports? Other chains seem to be doing the same thing.
JN: Many brands are looking at these nontraditional places for growth and we are as well. Our thought is that in order to grow in the future we need to touch different segments. We currently have two airport locations and more in the works. All of these locations, however, have a much smaller footprint, so that is where our focus on improving efficiencies on our production line really came into play.
Want more on Firehouse Subs approach? Read:
Richard Elkins, director of construction services for Firehouse Subs discusses how the chain fit its operation into the Jacksonville International Airport.
Rich Goodman, vice president of operations services at Firehouse Subs, outlines the chain’s sandwich station design.