“Obviously the urgency of the pandemic, consumer behaviors, pulled that forward for us,” says Darden, who joined MOOYAH in May 2019, succeeding Michael Mabry. Darden previously served as COO at Taco Bueno. Before, he worked 10-plus years at Panera Bread.
MOOYAH’s decision, while sped up, won’t be rushed. One of the reasons the brand was ready to move forward was because of where it is now. Darden says MOOYAH hit 2022 goals already for digital and loyalty transactions (digital mix is sticking about 10 percent higher, year-over-year, in reopened stores). And it tightened operations in an effort to lower wait times, thanks in part to better employee scheduling and an investment in upgraded cooking equipment that makes burgers faster and heats up quicker between orders. New grills offer more usable space to handle added volumes. Larger fry stations, too. “Those things allow us to have the capacity to execute larger hours,” Darden says.
Additionally, although not “earth-shattering news,” he adds, MOOYAH implemented a new kitchen display system that provided corporate visibility into franchisee’s speed of service. The KDS gave MOOYAH a window in. With that data in tow, it could now target areas of improvement, spotlight throughput, and make sure something like a drive-thru was feasible without sacrificing quality. Communication between cashier and kitchen improved. Darden says the KDA enabled employees working the register to completely focus on the guest to make sure they get the order right.
Pre-rollout, MOOYAH employees would talk to customers, turn around, and call down those orders. It was a cool, unique, and fun process, Darden says, but it wasn’t ideal for the future. “We believe, and I believe, that predictably is important and in order to scale MOOYAH, we’ve got to be predictable in terms of our guest experience, our speed of service, the accuracy that we have,” he says.
To the labor point, MOOYAH introduced scheduling software so operators could coordinate and deploy hours more effectively. To make sure peak hours and shoulder periods were staffed correctly. Having the right people in the right places at the right times, Darden says.
“When folks come in, where they go, what their primary duties are, what their secondary duties are,” he says. “And that really allowed us to define roles for the individuals working within the organization.”
Darden says, fully staffed, it should take MOOYAH another three or four employees to run a drive-thru location.
Essential in that process, though, will be trying to replicate MOOYAH’s brand strengths at another ordering point.
“We’re very cognizant of that in terms of how we’re deploying our training initiatives and hospitality initiatives, because I think the ones that win in drive-thru are the ones that can convey their brand’s personality through the drive-thru and through eat-in and through delivery,” he says.
An example is Chick-fil-A, a brand that often ranks toward the bottom of speed metrics in drive-thru studies. Yet it’s guest sentiment scores are always through the roof.
“They’re just so busy and people stay engaged. And they engage you,” Darden says. “They’re certainly one to model yourself after in terms of how to do that.”