HOW DID SHUCKIN’ SHACK WEATHER THE COVID-19 STORM?
If COVID-19 has taught us one thing in the seafood restaurant franchise business, it’s this: the old tricks of the trade won’t work at all. Instead of operating as one of these monolithic national brands, the better course to chart is to stay agile, small – and fast.
As the pandemic begins to wane, these are the kind of franchises that are already up and running while the rest are still scratching their heads, wondering what the shuck happened to their grand reopening.
Ever since we opened our first location in 2007, we’ve prepared for unforeseen setbacks as well as give ourselves a pat on the back when we eventually overcame them.
It’s a part of our franchise’s DNA to be resilient when forces beyond our control threaten to push us out to sea.
COVID-19 was just the next challenge we had to tackle, and we did it by staying true to our roots as an emerging seafood restaurant franchise.
In a recent op-ed piece for FSR Magazine, Shuckin’ Shack’s COO Bill Bartlett shared how we were able to stay afloat during one of the most monumental storms in modern history. Here was his take on what Shuckin’ Shack has done right to successfully navigate the unprecedented circumstances of 2020.
A FRESH CONCEPT = A BREATHE OF FRESH AIR
A corporate brand can’t innovate at the same pace as an emerging restaurant chain, not even close! It’s tempting to assume that the biggest sharks eat first in the restaurant business, but that’s a mistake.
By staying agile and developing a unique concept, we were a welcome breath of fresh air that our restaurant patrons craved.
Usually, the atmosphere of seafood restaurants falls into one of two categories: fancy-pants, fine dining, or down-home, deep-fried fast food.
When we first started in our area, no restaurant or bar appealed to guests who wanted the high-end seafood experience but didn’t enjoy an unnecessarily formal atmosphere.
Honestly, why should you have to wear a suit like you’re at a business convention just to eat steamed Alaskan King Crab legs?
Enter Shuckin’ Shack!
You shouldn’t have to wear cufflinks and a suit to enjoy high-quality seafood. That’s where we found an untapped middle market, if you will.
Our concept is fresh because we listened to what our patrons wanted – something different, something way more laid-back than the typical seafood place. Something FUN!
GO BEYOND THE MECHANICS OF SUPERB SERVICE
Most of the time, new servers and bartenders face one of two scenarios: a failing business that doesn’t care how they do their jobs or an established brand that micromanages every little detail.
But we found the middle ground at Shuckin’ Shack.
We don’t only teach the essentials of what good service really means; we explain why it matters and why we demand it from every one of our employees.
You can’t run the front of the house while breathing down your employee’s necks about tri-folded napkins or tables that aren’t angled askew just right.
Fancy-pants seafood joints worry about that kind of stuff, but does the clientele you want to attract even care about it?
Instead, teach your staff what guests care about most and how to put money in their pockets and yours in the long run.
For example, let’s say you hire a new bartender who definitely has a look but hasn’t come out of their shell, so to speak.
You don’t keep hounding the newbie about making eye contact and greeting guests; you make sure the bartender gets the proper training about why you have to make eye contact – and maintain it – while giving a genuine, heart-felt greeting or goodbye. It’s these little things that ultimately make a difference in customer experience- without feeling phony or forced like some interactions with chain restaurant staff.
RESIST STRAYING TOO FAR OFF-CONCEPT WITH YOUR MENU
Have you ever heard of a gourmet steak restaurant that offers terrific seafood too? It’s absolutely a thing because the idea is to give your cuisine’s central theme at least one alternative.
The trick is to offer exactly that: one alternative and not stray too far off-concept.
As the old saying goes, “a jack of all trades is master of none.”
Indeed, the seafood dish of the evening at a high-end steak restaurant will probably blow your mind – if you happen to be in the mood to come out of left-field when ordering.
Your menu has to follow through on what you say that you do best, but always be aware that offering an alternative doesn’t water down your concept.
Even if patrons don’t want something different and order the usual, it makes most people feel at ease if they do, in fact, have the option to be bold.
Initially, we resisted expanding our menu’s concept, but once we added a little variety, our guests responded incredibly well.
But mind you, we didn’t necessarily go all-in and offer every type of fish, lobster, and oyster you can find along the east coast.
From the very beginning, we narrowed down our menu to seafood dishes that our clientele loved most, and we plan to keep it that way at Shuckin’ Shack.
BE A GROWER, NOT A SHOW-ER.
One thing we have come to know is this: smaller establishments seem to be fairing better than larger establishments in a post-COVID shutdown society.
When you have a smaller operational footprint to manage, it gives you more resources to deliver a consistent level of service for your guests.
Nowadays, many corporate chains are moving away from the traditional restaurant business model and adjusting to a digital-first model.
Certainly, digital has its place in the restaurant business, but you simply can’t replace enjoying a night out in an establishment that feels cozy, welcoming, but not cramped and busy.
Again, that’s where we come into the equation and try to keep our restaurants efficient, versatile, and compact.
If we do have any extra square feet, we don’t make another pantry with it; instead, we try our best to give our patrons more room to enjoy themselves.
In the end, by staying true to those ethics, we manage to weather the storm that COVID-19 caused.