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Smokey Bones Expands Brand, Adds 2 Virtual Restaurants via Ghost Kitchen


In more ways than one, Smokey Bones BBQ is expanding to Chicago.  The BBQ brand is teaming up with Kitchen United not only to offer its namesake barbecue but also to launch two virtual restaurants – The Burger Experience and The Wing Experience.

Smokey Bones BBQ began offering its most popular items, including trademark smoked ribs and pulled pork, on May 4.  In July the two virtual restaurants’ offerings -- which happen to be the most highly searched items for the area: wings, burgers, grilled salmon and salads -- will be added to the menu.

A Team Effort

The Chicago kitchen is staffed with Smokey Bones pitmasters to prep, cook and package the food, which is then handed off to Kitchen United employees to hand-off to third-party delivery services and for curbside pickup.

Customers can order thru Smokey Bone’s digital platform, at and through third-party delivery marketplaces: Grubhub, Uber Eats, DoorDash and ezCater. 

Smokey Bones is among the brands that have leaned into off-premises in response to COVID-19. With “productive relationships with third-party delivery marketplaces,” already in place, the brand added makeshift drive-thrus in its locations’ parking lots for digital order pickup and for real-time to-go orders, CEO James O’Reilly explains. 

The brand expanded its carryout menu to include meal kits and alcohol as well. 

“Leveraging technology to increase the availability of Smokey Bones is guided by our ‘anytime / anywhere’ off-premise vision,” says O’Reilly.


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Tech Investments for the Future

Last year with new leadership at the helm, Smokey Bones made “significant investments” in technology including new hardware and upgrading to the latest version of NCR’s Aloha POS.

Significant tech investments are being tested and rolled out this year, including Olo, table management, updated ecommerce and loyalty. 

O’Reilly admits the company had to place its tech to-do list on the back burner while it pivoted operations to off-prem in response to COVID-19 and mandated dining room closures. 

Technology will be a “key growth driver for us as we move forward,” says O’Reilly. “It is a great equalizer these days and enables us to compete like a big company.”

The New Normal

About 12 of the 60 Smokey Bones’ dining rooms were open when interviewed by Hospitality Technology, with more to follow as states and cities lift restrictions. Smokey Bones is following CDC, OSHA, National Restaurant Association, and states’ guidelines. Dining rooms have been reconfigured with social distancing in mind. Sanitation procedures are more frequent and more visible to guests, and the brands’ website includes its COVID19 response on its home page.

“We are communicating to our guest through our existing digital channels the significant measure we are taking to keep them and our staff safe,” he says.

O’Reilly realizes the conundrum:  “Dining out is one of the things consumers have missed most” (during stay at home orders) but they’re still cautious about coming back to restaurants.”


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