Forget the popcorn, nachos, and candy. Moviegoers in Rochester, New York, are eating food from BurgerFi while catching the latest blockbuster.

The Florida-based burger chain inked a licensing agreement with Apple Cinemas to operate a franchise location inside the nine-screen venue. The outlet opened in December and operates like a typical restaurant outside of the theater, with third-party delivery available via DoorDash, Grubhub, and Uber Eats, even outside of movie hours. There’s also in-theater service, where guests scan QR codes during their movies to have food delivered directly to their seats.

“We wanted to be able to introduce people to the brand at Apple Cinemas, and they were looking for a vendor that could elevate the food to match the overall experience, so it just seemed to line up perfectly for both of us,” says CEO Carl Bachmann.

The partnership is part of a broader push to deliver new points of distribution to consumers.

“We’re redefining our portfolio, and that means choosing new spots to play,” Bachmann says. “It’s about finding ways to meet guests with different experiences in different places in their lives. That’s why I think nontraditional spaces across the board are a great opportunity to grow the brand and get people excited about BurgerFi again.”

Restaurants of all shapes and sizes have been going deeper into nontraditional spaces over the past few years. It’s the natural progression of a shift that started with the move from dine-in to dine-out during the pandemic.

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“Delivery was the first step in this evolution of getting higher-quality products in a different space,” Bachmann says. “Now that people are back out in the world, it’s important for us to still be bringing the food to them and meeting them where they are, as opposed to just building a brick-and-mortar store and waiting for them to come to us.”

Along with the opportunity to grow awareness and find new customers, nontraditional outlets come with smaller footprints and lower startup costs. BurgerFi has opened five airport locations in the past few years. The roughly 500-square-foot kiosks are among its highest-volume restaurants, so there’s a clear opportunity to drive revenue without the same level of capital expenditure as a 2,500-square-foot store.

BurgerFi is already working on a second movie theater location with Apple Cinemas in Warwick, Rhode Island. It also is continuing to strengthen its presence in airports across the country with a second location in the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Both units are slated to open this year. Additionally, the brand is “aggressively seeking new development opportunities” with an eye toward gaining a foothold in more channels, like stadiums and train stations.

“Airports and cinemas are just the starting point,” Bachmann says. “You could see us back in a mall. People probably wouldn’t have thought that we’d do that just a few years ago, but malls are evolving and becoming more of the center of a community. There’s all kinds of action parks and different things that people do as a group or as a family. I think those are great places for brands to be seen.”

Those sites could help BurgerFi accelerate traditional development. The brand spent the back half of 2023 assessing and closing underperforming locations. With much of that work completed, it’s looking to expand throughout Florida and along the I-95 corridor. The plan is to seed new markets with lower-cost stores in nontraditional venues before building out its brick-and-mortar footprint.

Redefining the portfolio in terms of where to grow is just one part of a multi-pronged turnaround plan underway at the burger chain, which was in the midst of a sales slump when Bachmann took the helm last summer. The former Smashburger exec quickly mapped out five key priorities for BurgerFi and its sister restaurant Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza & Wings. It’s been all systems go since then.

Step one is enhancing employee training and doubling down on general manager development. Those efforts already were bringing about “significantly better” turnover rates on both the hourly and management sides after just 90 days. Step two is upgrading the menu. To that end, BurgerFi last fall launched jumbo chicken wings as a permanent menu addition. That was part of its goal to push chicken mix to 10–15 percent. It also enhanced its previously poorly rated fries and removed less popular and labor-intensive items that dragged down throughput and ticket times.

Priority number three is redefining the portfolio. That includes digging more into nontraditional spaces, opening the first co-branded BurgerFi and Anthony’s location, and launching a new store in New York called the Better Burger Lab. Housed in a former franchise location that shuttered during the pandemic, the restaurant offers the full menu of burgers, sides, and drinks alongside an exclusive lineup of limited-edition offerings.

“That’s where we’re playing from an innovation standpoint,” Bachmann says. “It’s a really fun place for me, personally, because that’s one of my passions. We’ll be launching new items that you can’t get anywhere else in the country, so people will be able to go there and get to see what’s coming next, and then we’ll be collecting a lot of guest feedback.”

Step three doesn’t end there. It also includes a focus on improvements within the four walls of the restaurant–everything from back-of-house technology and kitchen equipment to front-of-house details like lighting, music, and temperature.

The fourth area of focus is setting clear standards for consistent execution and implementing a restaurant-level audit process to hold teams accountable. That’s something Bachmann says often gets overlooked when companies are implementing new initiatives.

“People will put all of these great strategies into place, but then they won’t have a process or a system to really gauge and grade themselves both internally and externally on how they’re performing,” he says. “So, those gold standards are about getting guest feedback and making sure we’re listening to employees.”

The fifth and final priority is “punching above our weight” from a marketing perspective and “getting much more aggressive” when it comes to digital. That’s spearheaded by CMO Cindy Syracuse, an industry veteran who joined the company a year ago.

“If something doesn’t tie into one of those five steps, then we’re not going to waste our time with it,” Bachmann says. “It’s a busy business that we’re in. We run lean. If it doesn’t fit in there, it’s not a priority, and that’s OK because there’s a whole lot that does fit in there.”

Burgers, Fast Casual, Marketing & Promotions, Story, BurgerFi