Adding new services or even updating existing ones is often easier said than done.
Take catering, for example. Any catering initiative must not compromise the in-store experience for guests while meeting predetermined deadlines without compromising food quality or safety. Such was the case when Jersey Mike’s, a 1,700-unit fast-casual concept, updated its catering program.
The program centers on two basic options. Subs By The Box features individually wrapped and labeled subs. Each box feeds 12 people and includes 4 sub varieties. Individual Lunch Boxes represent a grab-and-go option and include a choice of two sub sizes (regular or mini), a bag of chips and a cookie. Customers can choose to add drinks, dessert and a dessert to their orders. Jersey Mike’s even updated its catering packaging to mirror the store design it is rolling out to franchisees nationwide.
Marco Panicali, co-director of operations for Jersey Mike’s, explains how the updated catering program works within the fast-casual chain’s existing infrastructure and more.
Q: What are some of the new characteristics of the updated catering program?
A: We have offered catering for quite some time. This was more of an update of the packaging, the serving size and more. Being a made-to-order product, we try to be as prepared as possible for that catering order and will strive to make it as close to pickup time to preserve the food quality. The sandwiches are individually wrapped and labeled so it’s clearly marked for the customer. It exactly mimics what we are already doing in the store, so there’s less training involved. In the past we would offer smaller-sized items and guests would take two. Now they take one, larger individually wrapped sub. Our boxes still offer the same amount of food. So, the labor’s a little less on that front but our boxes still hold the same amount of food.
Q: Are the food options limited to cold menu items or can customers order hot menu items, too?
A: Over the years, we have found most people are looking for the cold subs when it comes to catering. So, that’s where we are focusing. If a customer looks for hot subs, we will make it work.
Q: As a result of the pandemic, are Jersey Mike’s operators seeing an increase in catering requests?
A: Catering demand is still strong, but it is a little different. It used to be the large office gatherings, now it’s more smaller at-home gatherings and feeding frontline workers.
Q: How does Jersey Mike’s approach to catering impact labor?
A: The program is designed around simplicity. The orders can be made on the front line or along our digital ordering lines. We did a lot of testing of this new catering offering behind the scenes.
Q: Where and how does staff prepare, assemble and store the catering orders?
A: The key word here is balance. Right now, we are in the process of retrofitting all 1,700 stores across the country. One of the biggest features of that retrofit is a second make line. That’s where we will handle digital and catering orders. You will still have the customer-facing line. The lines are close enough where staff can literally pivot from one to the other depending on demand, etc. There’s a lot of efficiencies with this approach because you are saving steps. Instead of having to prepare orders in the back room, everything is located in the front of the house. From a guest perspective, you are watching something that can pique your interest and build awareness.
Q: Describe the second makeline.
A: It’s a mirror of the front line, but it’s slightly consolidated. Some of the second makelines will be larger, some will be smaller depending on the space constraints. Bringing these lines into the front of the house puts our operators in a position where they have to operate these second lines every day. In some cases, it could be out of site and out of mind. Now you have to open it every day.
Q: How have franchisees responded to the new design and the addition of the second makeline?
A: The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. And as we implement these changes, the feedback has been positive. They love the changes and the new look of the stores.
Q: Are Jersey Mike’s operators able to do this within their existing equipment infrastructure or were extra items necessary?
A: The beauty of this program is the simplicity. We have been able to stage orders with the existing equipment in the store. It comes down to the operator who is in there day after day, wearing the apron. They have to schedule and stage everything. Most importantly, they have to balance the time when they promise the food with when they start making that food. Nothing will ever be made the night before.
Q: What steps will operators take to maintain food quality without compromising food safety?
A: With the new catering, all of the subs are individually wrapped, which makes the food more secure. And with our current state with COVID this is more important than ever. And making that product closest to the pickup time is really the key here.