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Famous Dave’s Leans On Off-Prem

Barbecue brand opens pop-up drive-thru, continues to tweak curbside.
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Famous Dave’s is among the casual dining restaurants that have seen off-premise sales increase in recent years. “Eighteen to 24 months ago, 30% of revenue was from off-prem. Pre-COVID-19, it was 50%,” explains Famous Dave's Senior Vice President of Operations Al Hank. Now with dining rooms closed coast to coast, 100% of Famous Dave’s revenue is from off-prem.    

About two years ago, the barbecue brand had begun tweaking its concept and tech solutions. Seeing the increased consumer demand for carry out and delivery, Famous Dave’s modified its store format and rolled out three new prototypes in 2019.  Previously, a typical location was 6,500 square feet, but with off-premise orders increasing and dine-in customers dwindling, Famous Dave’s rolled out a trio of 3,000 square foot locations “to increase operation efficiencies and reduce operating expenditures. The new locations feature separate entrances for picking up off-premise orders. “Customers are engaging with us in different ways,” says Hank. “We could see we needed to evolve our business.”

The franchisor also began adding new technology – kiosks, pay at the table, a new POS, to help improve efficiencies and customer and staff experience. ”You name it, we ran the gamut on the technology piece these last 18 months,” Hank says.

Refining Curbside

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, how customers are engaging with the barbecue brand continues to evolve. Famous Dave’s was already offering third-party delivery, and franchisees began offering curbside pickup a few years ago. Corporate stores added curbside in spring 2019. “It has been evolving and we’ve been playing with it,” says Hank.  “When people say curbside is just the act of bringing food to car, there’s much more involved.”

Famous Dave’s weighed numerous questions including: Are customers paying in the parking lot? Paying on the phone?  What’s best for customer?  What type of tech investment is required? 

Famous Dave’s partners with Olo for online ordering, and denoting a mobile order for curbside is as easy as pushing the button on the app, he explains.    

In addition to accepting orders via its mobile app, customers can place their orders via phone. Which adds to the list of questions, how and when do customers pay? And how are customers notified when their order is ready? 

When it comes to payments, “We are encouraging customers to pay before they arrive,” says Hank.  “We are testing and trying different things. We are meeting and speaking with our operators three and four times a day about what is the most effective way to possible to execute this model.” 

The franchisor is looking for best practices for identifying the car and testing payment solutions. For those who want to pay at pickup, some Famous Dave’s locations are using handheld wireless-enabled Skytab device that enables customers to tap to pay. 

Cash is still accepted, though its use has dropped to single digits down from 30% before COVID-19.

Famous Dave’s is testing what Hank describes as a “gritty drive-thru” – a portion of the parking lot that is staked out with cones from Home Depot.

In-house delivery and third-party delivery from all the major players is available.  “Our main focus for our teams is to provide the most convenient way and flexibility for guest however they want to interact with us,” says Hank.

When restaurant dining rooms do reopen, Hank expects “there will be things we can and cannot do as far as capacity.” Restaurants will apply some of their learnings such as scaling back their dine-in menus and continue to offer family-sized meals, a part of Famous Dave’s menu that has seen increased interest during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Off premise is not going anywhere.  It will continue to be big,” he says.

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