An Interview with Brianna Schmaltz
Today, customers have plenty of alternatives to dining out. They can get their meals catered or delivered, or go for other off-site options such as takeout and drive-thru. Consumer demand for off-premises dining is so huge that it makes up 44 percent of total restaurant sales. What this means is that consumer behavior is changing and restaurants increasingly depend on third parties for off-premises revenue. Some restaurants have mixed feelings about partnering with third parties, even though customers use third-party services and apps more than ever. Restaurants now face a dilemma: should they join the third-party revolution, or opt out?
We turned to Brianna Schmaltz to get her perspective on partnering with third parties. Brianna is Director of Alternate Platforms at Red Robin, where she directs the company’s off-premises sales. A 20-year restaurant veteran, she spent 12 of those years focused on catering. She formerly served as Director of Catering for Coffee & Bagel Brands, parent company of Einstein Bros. Bagels, Noah’s Bagels, Bruegger’s, and Caribou Coffee. Here’s our interview with Brianna:
ezCater: So Brianna, growing off-premises business is one of many specialties in your wheelhouse. You’ve developed partnerships with a number of third parties over the years. In your experience, what questions should an operator ask before partnering with a third party?
Brianna Schmaltz: Here’s the No. 1 question: Will this third-party vendor bring us incremental business—meaning additional revenue on top of whatever sales our restaurant would have made on its own. Or is the vendor just going to take sales from our core business? And if that’s the case, are we now paying a commission on those sales when we may have gotten those orders directly from consumers?
ezCater: Let’s drill into the incremental piece. Where have you found incremental business?
Brianna Schmaltz: Sure. When millennials find Red Robin using a third-party app, and order food from us, that’s incremental business. We know that millennials rarely go to Red Robin’s website to order a burger. Instead, they’re accustomed to using third-party websites and apps to order food because they haven’t decided what to eat. They’re deciding as they’re scrolling through the options. So in this case, [a third-party vendor] is bringing us incremental business.
ezCater: It sounds like using third parties has allowed you to reach new customers who haven’t experienced your brand. That’s a great opportunity for restaurants. But partnering with third parties also entails giving up control over things like the delivery experience. Naturally, restaurants want to protect their brand and customer experience. What’s the key to finding trustworthy third-party vendors?
Brianna Schmaltz: You want to look at how the third-party vendor manages its employees. Think about the executive teams that work directly with you—they aren’t the same employees who are closest to your guests—like delivery drivers. Get really tight with the vendor to learn how it manages, hires, and trains its employees, because those are the people who manage your brand in the field.
ezCater: How do you make sure Red Robin has successful and healthy relationships with vendors?
Brianna Schmaltz: Great and consistent communication. Dive deep into the reporting that these vendors are able to give you—data on their customers: names, phone numbers, and email addresses. The problem is these companies are reluctant to provide this data, so you sometimes have to push them to share it. I also like having weekly and biweekly calls to discuss what struggles we saw this week or what’s going well and what’s not going well.
ezCater: Some restaurants question whether third parties can drive incremental sales. We have our own take on that, but what’s yours?
Brianna Schmaltz: Third-party vendors may have left a lot of restaurant brands with a bitter aftertaste. A lot of operators refuse to use third-party services. But we’re finding out that if you don’t use them, you’re going to miss out on the incremental sales that I mentioned earlier. I think that right now, with the way consumers are buying [meals off-premises], opting out of third-party services is not an option. It just has to be done strategically. The third-party world is very complicated and varies by brand and probably changes every week. But it’s an important part of growing your business.
ezCater: You’re right that partnering with third parties has to be done strategically. Who do you work with and why?
Brianna Schmaltz: The only third-party vendor that we’re using to support the catering portion of our business is ezCater.
ezCater: Why just one?
Brianna Schmaltz: I’d rather partner with one company that has the capacity to really help us all around the country. I’ve been with brands that have used numerous third-party services and it’s messy. So I’d prefer to just go really deep with one brand like ezCater.
Also, we rely on a single vendor for catering because we want to control how our brand is represented on the third-party website and app. We want to make sure that our prices are correct and that our photos are updated whenever we have a menu change. If you’re working with ten third-party services, that’s a lot of administrative work that has to be done. When one company can essentially do that for you, why would you use multiple services?
This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.
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