In the fast-evolving quick-serve world, most brands are routinely forced to decide whether to stick with the status quo or throw caution to the wind with new development. Boston Market recently chose the latter option when the fast-casual concept decided to step out of its chicken comfort zone and add ribs to the menuboard.
“We feel our customers would like to eat and experience ribs at a Boston Market,” says George Michel, CEO of Boston Market. “We decided that ribs would be a great product for us to look at and test, and [to] look at the viability of it on the menu. So we started with a very small test in a number of restaurants, and then early this year we went to a larger test.”
The ribs test far surpassed the company's original goals and expectations. During an eight-week rib promotion earlier this year, restaurants ran out of ribs in only three weeks. And since adding ribs to the menu, Boston Market has seen sales increase by 16 percent, with ribs accounting for more than 18 percent of customer orders.
That success encouraged Boston Market to add ribs to the menu permanently at all locations.
“Chicken and ribs go very well together. It's no different than steak and lobster or bacon and eggs, it's very natural,” Michel says. “The customers’ reaction to the tests and promotions we ran confirmed our belief that ribs would have a permanent place on our menu.”
Despite being categorized as a limited-service brand, Boston Market largely competes with casual concepts, which executives say makes the rib addition more natural.
“Our research tells us that on any given dinner occasion, the customer who comes to Boston Market also considered Olive Garden or another casual-dining competitor,” says Sara Bittorf, chief brand officer for Boston Market. “So we knew that we were already in the competitive set there, and this just gives us an even better offering to go up against them.”
Over the past three years, Boston Market has made some other risky dining-room decisions by altering some of its practices to help compete with the casual restaurant industry. The brand replaced plastic silverware and plates with metal silverware and china plateware, and now provides more customer services, such as opening doors, taking meals to the diners’ tables, and bussing tables.
Tony Buford, executive vice president of operations, says there’s one major differentiating factor between Boston Market and casual restaurants that allows it to compete. “When you walk into one of those [casual restaurants], you're expected, obviously, to pay a tip, and the prices are typically a little bit higher,” he says. “We include all those service pieces and do not expect the guests to pay more for that by tipping.”
Boston Market recently decided to pursue unit growth, and for the first time in six years, the brand is opening new restaurants: one in Queens, New York, and the other in Miami.
Randy Miller, chief administrative officer, says the expansion was planned before the rib success. In fact, the brand has experienced 34 consecutive months of positive, cumulative sales.
“We began looking at opportunities for additional growth about 18 months ago,” Miller says. “We've also been working for the last couple of years to leverage our brand into nontraditional arenas such as airports, universities, and food courts.”
Michel says he and his team are thrilled by the good fortune Boston Market has experienced over the past few years, and they look forward to seeing the brand grow in the coming months.
Turns out, the risk was worth the while.
By Marlee Murphy