In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cousins Subs has been able to make some swift IT and operational changes that have helped keep the sandwich shop chain serving customers.The sandwich shop has added curbside pickup to all 100 of its stores.
Josh Thurmer, IT Director for the Milwaukee-based sandwich shop, said the escalating impact of COVID-19 became evident in early March.
“Coming back from MURTEC 2020, we realized we needed to take this seriously,” says Thurmer, who spoke about the trials and tribulations of integrations at the show's 25th anniversary held in Las Vegas on March 9-11. “How is this going to affect our business? It was pretty evident that it was going to impact everyone negatively, so we started thinking about how we could minimize the negative impact.”
When governors started issuing stay at home orders in Wisconsin and beyond, “we quickly developed a team to do curbside pickup,” Thurmer explains. “The initiative involved multiple areas of the business, all working together at a breakneck speed. We rolled out curbside pickup from tech to operations in two days.”
Here’s how it works: guests place their order for curbside pickup online at www.cousinssubs.com, through the Cousins Subs mobile app or by calling a participating Cousins Subs location.
When placing an order for curbside pickup, guests are prompted to provide their vehicle make, model and color and pay for their order via credit card. To ensure the health and safety of guests and crew members, cash payments are not accepted. Members of Cousins Club, the brand’s app-based loyalty program, will receive one point for every $1 spent on curbside pickup orders.
Upon arrival guests are required to call the Cousins Subs location. When the order is ready, a Cousins Subs crew member will walk it out to the guest.
A number of Cousins Subs locations have drive-thrus, and those locations are seeing increased sales.
“We added curbside across the board whether there was a drive-thru or not,” Thurmer explains. “We wanted to push for curbside. We wanted to give our customers another way to get food.”
According to SMG Research, with dine-in unavailable in most locations, drive-thru has emerged as the most popular way to get food from restaurants nationwide.
Leveraging Microsoft Teams
All of the IT team members are working remotely, which isn’t a problem for the company. Employees have company-issued computers with the proper security protocols and needed software. Microsoft Teams and its video conferencing feature is being leveraged for large system-wide meetings. “We were able to have clear, concise communication enabled by technology,” he says.
Cousins Subs’ IT and operations teams never tapped into this technology on such a wide scale before the stay-at-home orders; employees were usually working under one roof in the corporate office in Milwaukee.
“If we didn’t have the technology in place, the process wouldn’t have been as streamlined,” Thurmer adds. “Tech is not the hard part. The communication is − the answers, the process for creating those items. Teams allowed us to do that and to quickly teach our user base how to use it. The rest is history.”
Inside the Stores
Many of the Cousins Subs locations remain open for carryout orders. Clear shields were added to the front counter to help protect employees and customers alike. Cousins Subs has always had strict cleaning protocols, but wearing disposable gloves are now mandatory. All store teams have received masks and are highly encouraged to wear them during their shifts.
Consumers are appreciating foodservice workers now more than ever, recognizing these employees are going out in harm’s way to serve. Cousins Subs added a tip option when ordering online, via the app or at the counter. Counter tipping included an updated software image to be pushed out to each of the Verifone Payment Devices. A suggested tip amount, a percentage of the sale is automatically generated, or customers can enter their own tip or skip tipping altogether.
Customers have been opting in. “The majority of our customers want to give back to the people who make what they love − Cousins Subs,” Thurmer says.
Integrated Third-Party Delivery
Cousins Subs works with DoorDash and Eat Street and is working on adding other marketplaces. All the marketplace orders are integrated into the Brink POS so adding new delivery partners is streamlined.
“We will not do tablets at all,” Thurmer explains. “It gives me anxiety just thinking about it (adding tablets.) Everything we implement is integrated with Brink POS. Operators are under extra stress right now. To throw something else at them (to learn and manage) would not be fair.”
Coinciding with its push to expand third-party delivery, Cousin’s is also promoting its loyalty program. Cousins is able to obtain customer data and build that personalized relationship, and the customer gets a unified guest experience when ordering online, with the app or when ordering in store and scanning the app. (Cousins Subs worked with Punchh to develop and launch its app.)
Thurmer is “super optimistic” about the future. “What is going to come out of this at Cousins Subs, when the dust settles, are strong processes to rapidly prototype an idea and bring it to reality in a short time.
“What we are developing right now, we are developing for the long-term and for COVID-19, these will be lasting initiatives that will make our restaurants better in the future,” Thurmer says.