Harding says Piada will always offer an in-store experience guests gravitate toward. Thanks to the brand’s timeless designs, from wrought iron to white-oak fused beams, it hasn’t needed a major renovation in 11 years. Digital, though, and convenience in general, offered the most runway.
And these channels of business are starting to connect. Piada doesn’t have freezers. Items like pasta, fresh grilled Atlantic salmon, cannoli chips, calamari, and “honest to goodness bona fide hot food” continue to differentiate Piada, Harding says.
Customers who walk in for takeout see the open kitchen just as dine-in guests do. Of the 41 locations, about 25 percent have pickup windows. Those units do “far better in business,” Harding notes.
“You’ve made all of our decision previous, you just wait until the allotted time, you drive up, you pick up your food, it’s already pre-paid. You’re eliminating a lot of the pain points,” he says. “… Whenever a guest can minimize the stress that they’re going through in a day, they’re probably going to naturally gravitate toward that considering if they’re listening to the news, watching the news, watching what’s happening out there, they’re going to have some angst and anxiety. And anytime you can relieve that for the guest, you’re going to be in a good spot.”
The ability to win across both sides of the business—digital and in-store—is where fast casuals, and Piada, see potential at this pandemic turn, Harding says. Not just flexibility, but elevated offerings and experience whether its convenience-related or social-driven. Both of those customers exist today.
Also per BentoBox, in Q4 2021, 79 percent of diners ordered at least once per week. This figure was up from Q3 (76 percent), but down from the first half of 2021 (85 percent) as more customers returned to dining in-person at restaurants in the summer months. Still, one in four (26 percent) said they planned to order more delivery and takeout in 2022. Despite more restaurants and local governments requiring vaccinations to eat in, 54 percent of people said they plan to maintain their current dining habits.
All in all, it’s a mixed bag, and one where customers aren’t entirely sure what they expect to do, or when they’ll change course. And restaurants have to prepare for every angle.
Regardless, though, making sure employees and guests are happy are the two things “that should be tattooed on the inside of your eyelids,” Harding says
A few months ago, he cut out an article from industry thought-leader Jim Sullivan. It laid out the current labor crisis not so much as a hiring challenge, but rather a turnover one. Harding agrees.
By the end of December, Piada doled out bonuses to all hourly or part-time employees with a $200 cash gift card. “It’s our way of saying, not only will you make a great hourly wage—you will have an opportunity to grow your career with a growing company, but we’ll also give you a little something extra for your commitment to our guests,” COO Lance Juhas said at the time.
Back in October, roughly 50 percent of Piada’s workforce got on the frontlines to help. The company’s entire marketing team was clocking 10 shifts per week, while others devoted their time to two days per week. Piada also increased its hourly wage by $1.50 an hour.
Piada offers insurance, app scheduling, and rolled daily pay during the pandemic as well. Ahead of 2022, wages hiked more than 12 percent systemwide. “And that’s something that we would rather incur the extra cost of that than not being able to service the guest,” Harding says.
Piada worked to get more efficient elsewhere. “You go from a to-bag SKU to a one-bag SKU,” he adds. “Can you look at your napkins? We’re looking at all of those things.”
“The thing you have to remember,” Harding continues, “is if you don’t have team members giving great hospitality, you don’t have crap.”
Piada is getting creative with benefits when it can, everything from bus transit passes to pet insurance. Anything to foster a career ladder that will last well beyond the virus. “You gain a stronger culture when you promote from the culture,” Harding says.
Going forward, there’s no crystal ball. Shipping and commodity costs. How to take care of employees. None of it is getting simpler, Harding says.
“And so, I think as much as that puts extra pressure on the restaurant business,” he says. “I think the true restaurateurs are drawn into that fire to figure out how it’s going to work. And that’s what we’re going to do.”