Smokey Bones is doing well after Hurricane Irma and a massive remodel.
As technology causes huge disruptions for brick and mortar retail stores, it’s also having a lasting effect on the food and beverage industry. The internet shopping boom driven by Amazon, Walmart, and grocery delivery services means that fewer people are leaving their homes to shop, leading to fewer people heading into restaurants.
There are other things complicating the marketplace. The fast-casual restaurant space has grown tremendously: customers can get a high-quality, fast experience without leaving a tip. On top of this, competition has exploded.
With mid-market brands defined as “casual dining” getting squeezed by these changes, what’s a company to do?
At least that’s the approach that Smokey Bones is taking to the ever-evolving food and beverage landscape.
“You have to be excellent,” said Ryan Esko, the CEO, President, and Chairman at Smokey Bones. “People have so many choices today, you have to be great.”
Investing in the Future
With the mantra “better food, drinks, service, and atmosphere,” Smokey Bones are known grill masters in the South, a hard title to earn in a region known for its marinades. Simply flavorful recipes complement pork roasted low and slow over hickory logs every night, and that’s just one dish.
Is your mouth watering now, too? Esko hopes so.
In addition to great food and great service, Esko and his team are looking to also add “delivery for the modern age” to their mantra.
“One of the most exciting things happening at Smokey Bones is our giant investment into the future,” he said. “While we always want to be a comfortable place to visit, we want to stay current and modern. Additionally, we want to make sure that the atmosphere fits our new food and drink products and is also a place that great team members are proud to work.”
Smokey Bones launched a major remodel program at the end of 2016 and hopes to have close to 50—out of its 66—locations completed in the next eight months.
“While we pride ourselves on freshly smoked meats, we also have over 50 different beers and 40-plus bourbons and whiskeys. We needed to make sure that in our remodels we also captured the energy from our bar area.”
The $25-plus million remodel investment includes a major renovation to the outside and insides of current locations.
“It’s a major upgrade to the look. Although we’ll maintain the comfortable feel, it will be more modern and open. We’ve replaced floors, furniture, and upgraded bathrooms and more. It’s a really clean look.”
Esko also mentioned an unintentional operational upgrade the restaurants have also achieved.
“By opening up the restaurant, we’ve provided clearer sightlines to the guests from the team. It’s just another way we continue aiming for the best service possible.”
Surviving the Storm
Smokey Bones was hit hard during the hurricane season of 2017.
“That was a very scary week,” Esko said. “The hurricane was headed directly for our corporate office, as well as 30 percent of our restaurants. I was so worried about our team members, their families, and also having a company to return to. We are so fortunate that every single one of our team members were safe during the storm. Not only that, we had one of the team members give birth to a healthy baby during the hurricane!”
Nearly a third of the brand’s restaurants were impacted or closed during the hurricane. Despite this, the company somehow finished that month with record financial performance.
“Our teams were absolutely amazing. Once everything was safe, our restaurants worked incredibly hard to get back open and make great food and drinks. Many guests didn’t have power or water, so we were happy to offer a place for a good meal with their friends and family.”
The renovation efforts have been a long time in the making, and also took some shuffling of strategy to make sure they could be completed in an efficient way that didn’t affect how the business ran day-to-day.
“Change is never easy,” Esko stated. “We reviewed benchmarks in all areas, and focused on what we wanted to accomplish in one year, two years, and three years from a tactical and strategic perspective. Our goal was not only to increase profits by becoming more efficient in all aspects of the company, but end up a better guest-focused organization that can invest heavier in growth and customer experience.”
First, they needed the money.
“We knew that to spend $30-50 million on growth (remodels and new locations) we needed to hit profit targets. We also knew that to recruit, retain, and incent the best talent we needed to hit or exceed profit targets so they can be rewarded with exciting bonuses.
“We also expected that while we got more efficient we would also remove red tape and get better at our jobs. In the end, teams at corporate were not only much more efficient in costs, but supported the teams better in the field so that they could serve the guests better. Our turnover of our teams drastically decreased, our guest satisfaction drastically improved to record levels, our financial numbers exceeded all plans, we were able to reward our team members accordingly—all leading, in our opinion, to a better performing business staged for growth.”
Through its tremendous transformation efforts, Smokey Bones has all but guaranteed itself a place at the table in the casual dining market, despite the evolving face of the industry.
“Getting squeezed in the middle is not fun, so we have slowing been trying to swim upstream. We have really upgraded our food and beverage program to make it a more modern and polished experience. We have also really worked on our service. On top of that, our remodels seem to pull both the upgraded food and service together.
“Guests have endless choices, which is why we need to exceed their expectations every time.”
Smokey Bones has even created a solution to diners wanting to dine at home. The company has recently partnered with a third-party delivery service.
“With all that said, plus all the other fixes in the business, the team has accomplished two years in a row of record performance,” Esko shared. “In no ways are we resting and satisfied, we are challenged and excited, about what we are doing to keep up the momentum.”
Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill HQ
2999 NE 191st Street,
Aventura, FL 33180