Another Pal’s philosophy ties in: “word-of-mouth” marketing remains the golden egg from executives to build awareness. “We feel like you get the best word-of-mouth marketing by having excellent execution,” Adam says. “I feel like sometimes people forget that, or they think marketing is this cute little thing you do. We feel like if you execute well, or if the order is right, hot food is hot, cold food is cold, and they have that great experience with your employees, they have great food experiences, then that’s something people are going to want to talk about.”
Pal’s is going to focus on what it can control, he adds. Execution, hospitality, quality. “If we do that, there should be positive news out there about us,” Adam says. “We think that’s a big element of our loyal customer base that visits us multiple times a week.” Pal’s does trickle in traditional marketing—as seen in the LTO ad—but the true base of its brand is built on the cult-like ardor of its customers. “Ultimately, it’s that experience they have when they choose to come through us and spend their hard-earned money with us,” Adam says.
The repeatable, consistent menu helps ease labor. Pal’s, through the methods mentioned before, tries to avoid having workers who feel lost on the job. The brand wants employees to know what’s expected of them and feel confident they can achieve it.
“We’re really focused on how do we develop simplicity into the layout of the build; how do we develop simplicity into the layout of a station where an employee may be working, whether it’s the drink station making drinks, or it’s the sandwich station making our burgers or our sandwiches?” Adam says. “So we try to think about it on a very high level and say, how do we build simplicity into this so we can achieve the accuracy we want, the speed we want, absolutely hit that quality standard customers are wanting?”
Pal’s has brought tech into the fold, yet the mindset still aligns. The company tested outside order takers, similar to Chick-fil-A and In-N-Out, and developed in-house systems around training and scheduling. Yet mobile apps? “So who wants an app for a restaurant on their phone when we all already probably have hundreds of apps on our phones anyway?” Adam says.
If Pal’s needs something that’s going to reach out and the customer is going to touch the brand, he adds, the company would rather focus on its website and make sure it seamlessly translates to mobile than get into an arena guest doesn’t appear to be asking for. Pal’s always starts innovation where its customers live.
“They’re not being directed to any app stores, downloading an app, anything like that. It’s all about convenience to the customer,” Adam says. “I think some people get it wrong and think to install an app, if we use this loyalty program, they’re going to be more loyal to us. But it’s actually just adding in hassle to the customer. I think the customer does appreciate that we haven’t had any of that brand drift. We’ve just stayed true to what we are, which is trying to have a fantastic experience when you come to eat with us.”
Pal’s is looking toward growth. However, its unique, in-store operator model lends itself more toward a methodical approach. The brand will only consider expansion when there’s a restaurant leader 100 percent trained and ready to take on the store. It builds units for people to run them; not the other way around. “Executing from day one to the standards that we want to hit,” Adam says.
That bench is something Pal’s constantly nurtures. And it’s high stakes. “It does take time,” Adam says.
The process is a combination of external recruitment and identifying internal talent. Whoever is tapped, though, Adam says, they need to be a “true believer in the brand.” All of these ticks and traits that make Pal’s a category outlier have to course through the veins of the operator. How do you find that person? As difficult as the past couple of years have been, hardships did uncover some answers. “I think where a lot of people think, ‘oh things have got so hard,’ or they were so frustrated at work, if we had somebody who was saying hey, ‘I enjoy this challenge. I like this. I like the newness of the things that are going on. Each day is kind of difficult. It’s a puzzle to solve. It’s a problem to solve.’ Those are definitely the key indications that this might be somebody for us to focus on,” Adam says. The timeline from entering the pipeline to getting a store is about a 48-month process.
In Taylor’s case study, he highlights some of Pal’s overall screening process for employees at all levels. Among the agree-disagree statements: “For the most part, I am happy with myself;” “I think it is best to trust people you have just met;” “Raising your voice may be one way to get someone to accept your point of view.”
The end result, Adam says, is a brand with as much buy-in across the system as there is from customers who swear by it. The belief goes both ways.
“We want to make sure we have an environment where people are all friendly with each other,” he says. “That culture piece always matters.”