While several quick-service concepts felt sluggish traffic and sales to begin 2024, Wayback Burgers welcomed another record quarter, coming off a record 2023.

The burger chain was up double digits in same-store sales in the first quarter, despite an unprecedented cold snap in places like Dallas and San Antonio. Wayback president Patrick Conlin emphasizes this increase is not just because of creeping menu prices; transaction counts are growing, meaning people are still coming into the restaurants or buying via the website and app. The chain has inched up menu prices, but not nearly as much as it has in previous years.

It’s the same story for unit development. Wayback finished 2023 with 165 locations, which is a net gain of 18 restaurants over the past three years. The chain saw positive store growth in 2021, 2022, and 2023. If everything goes right in 2024—with no construction or permitting delays—the brand should open 25 to 30 restaurants in the U.S. That includes new markets like New Orleans, Manhattan, and Missouri. Last year, Wayback debuted in Utah and has plans to build two more locations in the state within the next 60 to 90 days. Much of this growth is coming from existing franchisees who are signing up for more restaurants.

“They’re already in the system and that just validates that they’re making money and they’re happy and they want to grow and reinvest in the brand,” Conlin says. “So while we love to have outside growth, we really get a big kick when the existing franchisees want to continue to grow with us. And we know what kind of operator, what kind of people they are and same with them knowing us. Really love to see that internal growth.”

The performance is a far cry from 2020 when Wayback and its franchisees had no idea what to expect. To the company’s benefit, it had online ordering in place since the late 2000s and was one of the first customers with Olo. Also, the chain had a mobile app in place since 2018 and also integrated with Uber Eats, DoorDash, and Grubhub, before COVID reached the U.S. Normally Wayback had a monthly call with its operators, but that quickly shifted to daily as leadership and franchisees needed instant information on what to do the next day, and the one after that. Promotions were scrapped, including everything planned for National Hamburger Month during May.

Because of Wayback’s preparation, sales returned to flat by Memorial Day that year. Since then, according to Conlin, the brand’s trajectory has increased with improved AUV and restaurant development.

“It’s been a great last three to four years for us,” the executive says.

Momentum has continued because of the brand’s willingness to innovate. In mid-to-early 2023, Wayback decided it needed an upgraded mobile app with “some more bells and whistles” that its previous app provider couldn’t satisfy. The chain researched about six different vendors until it landed on Punchh. The team began working on the project in June 2023 and officially launched the mobile app in late February. It was a big lift considering Wayback had to migrate 300,000 to 400,000 users from the previous version. There were bumps and glitches along the road, but Conlin says franchisees were patient and guest feedback has been positive. Tens of thousands of new subscribers have been added over the past few months.

Beforehand, users could only accrue points and rewards when inside the restaurant. Given today’s obsession with off-premises, Wayback made sure to add online ordering as an option. The loyalty program will also be available via kiosk, which is becoming a bigger part of dining room operations. Another feature is available challenges. For instance, in May, if a guest uses the app three times within the month they’ll get an additional 120 rewards points, which is enough for almost any entrée in the restaurant. And if customers want to use their rewards points on something else, they can put it toward a $5 donation to the Boys and Girls Club of America.

The loyalty program also has a secret menu, starting with the Bacon Maple Milkshake, a feature that could act as a defacto test kitchen for Wayback. If the chain receives praise from guests and enough of them are sold, these products could make their way to the regular menu.

Wayback’s success will be celebrated at a franchisee convention at Disney World near the end of July. The significant gathering, the first in five years, promises to bring together franchisees and master franchisees from across the country for a three-day event.

Traditionally, the brand has held regional meetings annually, where representatives from the corporate office travel around the country. However, franchisees expressed a strong desire for a more comprehensive convention to network and share ideas with peers from different regions. The convention will feature a trade show with vendors and a keynote speech from the Disney Institute, focusing on guest service and guest experience.

This event marks a major milestone for Wayback and the journey of its franchisees.

“I got to give credit to our franchisees really hanging in there,” Conlin says. “Their life was on the line [during the pandemic] and their money was on the line. And with ever-changing situations going on, they hung in there.”

Burgers, Fast Casual, Franchising, Growth, Story, Web Exclusives, Wayback Burgers