Meet customers in their need states
Noveshen says the flexibility of Starbird’s platform has allowed the brand to serve customers in the variety of ways they choose to experience it. He points to the fact that Starbird has seven ways to order delivery: through its native app, through a web ordering platform, and via five different third-party services. That way, no matter which digital marketplace the customer is shopping in, they’ll be able to easily order from Starbird.
That flexibility extended to Starbird’s on-premises experience, too. The brand adapted its order-ahead pickup process so that customers wouldn’t have to come into the building to get their food. Instead, there’s a pickup window with hand sanitizer through which guests grab their food when it’s ready. The original strategy was to employ a digital board announcing when orders were ready, but Starbird has moved toward a text opt-in system that does the job.
“Now a lot more people are opting into that because they get that it's the safest way—they don't have to stand around,” Noveshen says. “They could sit in their car now and wait for a text to come to get up and go to the window to pick up their food.”
Noveshen believes a drive-in method powered by a great digital ordering platform is better than drive thru because it doesn’t have the same kinds of bottlenecks and wait times. He points to In-N-Out as an example of a quick serve where it can take several minutes to get through the drive thru during a rush.
“It's kind of fun, it’s an outing, but for many people, that's not really convenience,” he says. “There's plenty of parking spaces now, for better or for worse, in all of our restaurants, so you can order ahead, pull into a spot, walk up, and in literally less than 60 seconds, have the food in your hand.”
Invest in virtual brands
Several restaurant companies have discovered through the COVID-19 crisis that virtual brands can be a great way to utilize a kitchen and crew and expand sales with very little extra cost. And while Starbird was working on virtual concepts before the crisis began, it’s accelerated that investment in the last few months. That’s primarily through two virtual brands: Starbird Wings and Starbird Salads.
Noveshen says these new concepts, which primarily sell existing Starbird items that are positioned a little differently, help the brand expand its digital real estate.
“So if you are going to a third-party delivery business like DoorDash or Uber Eats and you type in the word salads, you want a salad. The algorithm pushes Starbird Salads to the front,” he says. “When you want wings, you could just type in wings. Or if you type in Starbird, you could see all of our brands. So this digital real estate has been really powerful for us in getting the Starbird word out.”
One consideration for brands in developing virtual concepts is whether to attach their name or branding to them. Some believe it’s necessary to keep the branding separate so that customers don’t question the business’s motives, while others think it’s important to connect the dots for the customers so that they know what they’re getting.
Noveshen falls in the latter camp, noting that the Starbird branding is something that resonates with customers and is something to continue to invest in. “What we found is that there's a lot of trust with Starbird, and we didn't want to create something that wasn't true to us,” he says. “We found [value in] building the Starbird brand up in this space, especially with a completely new product and reason to visit it. We didn't need to go away from the brand.”
Noveshen says Starbird has plans for more virtual concepts, and he believes the cloud-kitchen strategy could be what the brand leads with as it expands to other cities. While he previously thought Starbird needed a brick-and-mortar presence in a new city to make virtual brands work, the rapid evolution of off-premises in the last few months has made him reconsider whether that’s true.