I worked at Baskin-Robbins all through high school and all through college, and really got into management. I did everything for the franchisee when I was in college—I ordered product, I hired, I fired, I did payroll. So it really got me into the business and hospitality. I thought it was a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed it.
Sam Oches is <i>QSR</i>’s editor.
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These days in the quick-service and fast-casual restaurant industries, the Millennial reigns supreme. The coveted demographic, approximately 20–35 in age and roughly 80 million members strong in the U.S., is the all-important target whose liberal tastes and propensity for all things digital and social media has forced the industry into a new era of innovation and transparency.
My dad managed a large catering operation out in eastern Long Island, New York, and I started working for him I think when I was in the eighth grade. Like everyone else, I got started as a dishwasher, and we would cater four weddings every weekend. Eighth grade, I was washing dishes; ninth grade, I was doing some prep work. By the time I got to tenth grade, I was cooking in the kitchen, and by my senior year, I was running the kitchen. I became enamored with the foodservice industry, probably because I watched my father be so successful at it.
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I’ve been a “lifer” with this family business called Chick-fil-A. I started visiting our family restaurant, The Dwarf Grill, nine months before I was born. When we were very young, my dad [Truett Cathy] would take me, my brother, and my sister to the restaurant, where we would not only scrape the chewing gum from the bottom of seats and tables, but we would entertain guests with table-side songs. We were reluctant at first—especially since we had to wear the dwarf costumes that my grandmother made for us—but after a while, people started giving us tips.
I was taught by good people that you can capture magic if you’ve got a wonderful place that attracts really good people who believe in what you do. The thing that really gets me is there are about 1,300 Toppers team members out there today, and by and large, those people are highly engaged and believe that we’re building something special; they’re very passionate about what we’re doing.
Roll tape. Two women behind a cluttered counter smile into the camera, a range of designer outfits framing the wall behind them. They talk of a dream to open a business, a love for their corner of Washington, D.C.
Cut to individual glimpses of two men, one laughing as he sits on an orange leather sofa, the other staring contentedly into the camera, a disheveled artist’s studio enclosing him, paints splashed on the background wall. Voiceovers talk of music, of art, of the investment the community makes into these things.
The last decade in quick service was a transformative one. Fast-casual restaurants moved from novel ideas in urban markets to competitive powerhouses with seemingly no ceiling. Health and nutrition became critical filters through which brands vetted their new menu items. And the Great Recession reset growth strategies, with limited-service players shifting their focus to more efficient, streamlined, and calculated expansion.
Millennials. Ever heard of ’em?
Of course you have. Millennials are all anyone in foodservice can talk about right now, the crème de la crème of today’s coveted customer demographics. Depending on whom you ask, they might be 20 years old or they might be 35 years old; studies vary on what, exactly, the age range for Millennials should be. But there’s no doubt that whatever their age and whatever you call them, the young, pre-family customers of today are driving food trends and throwing quick-service brands into a tizzy of new product development and promotional innovation.
Since the advent of the modern quick-service drive thru—some would say in the early 1970s, though the idea of a pick-up window has been around for much longer—operators have tinkered with the nuts and bolts to create a drive thru that is as fast, efficient, and pleasant as possible. Innovations throughout the years, from wireless headsets and order-confirmation boards to dual lanes and pre-sell signage, have created a better drive thru capable of handling the 60–70 percent of business that now loops the exterior of most quick-service restaurants.
All Rick and Elise Wetzel wanted was to have some pizza for lunch.