A&W Restaurants recently signed 8 new franchise agreements for a total of 14 new units so far this year. The 102-year-old brand, which already operates more than 500 locations across the U.S., is on track to exceed its franchise sales goals by December 31.
The brand’s success comes after a successful 2020 despite the challenges of the pandemic. A&W credits its adaptive business model: last year A&W experienced a 14% increase in average unit volume at standalone drive-thru locations and has continued to develop those units in wake of a changing consumer landscape.
The franchise is prioritizing the growth of its standalone drive-thru model. A&W’s news comes as drive-thru visits have increased 36% since the early days of the pandemic with 9 out of 10 visiting in May 2021, according to the State of What Feeds Us report.
Drive-thrus, according to market research firm The NPD Group, are the key to the industry's future. Drive-thrus have always been the ultimate in convenience and speed but during the pandemic they were the lifeline for QSRs and fast casual brands. Consumer demand for drive-thru has spurred brands to revisit their store development plans, adding drive-thrus and contactless pickup options to their new designs.
HT caught up with Liz Bazner, Senior Director of Marketing, to get an update on the legacy brand’s tech plans.
HT: A few months ago we caught up with A&W about the new store pipeline: 9 new U.S. locations will include drive-thrus. What other tech solutions are A&W locations planning to add this year?
Liz Bazner, Senior Director of Marketing: Most of our current tech projects are focused on increasing the efficiency of the drive thru and trying to help our operators with any labor issues that they’re experiencing. We’ve had franchisees basically double their drive-thru through-put by providing their crew with tablets to line bust or create a secondary point of order in their parking lots. We’ve also added more signage options for curbside and online order pick ups, as well as more merchandising pieces that allow guests to place orders from their phones by scanning a QR code or texting a number to download our app.
HT: What is next for A&W’s loyalty and mobile app?
Bazner: 2020 definitely put a spotlight on customer loyalty for us- it’s no longer optional for brands to have a loyalty program; it’s something that guests have come to expect. We’re currently working on revamping our email program to provide more personalization for our guests with an enhanced welcome journey that allows us to learn more about their preferences. We’re going beyond just identifying their favorite location and menu items to find out more about how else they’d like to interact with A&W, both online and in-person. We don’t currently have any plans to expand our app until we can build more of an infrastructure around our technology stacks, but it will definitely be on the horizon sooner rather than later.