Fat Brands, parent company of Fatburger, Hurricane Grill & Wings, and others, was something of an early mover in the world of delivery-only and virtual restaurant concepts. The SoCal-based company, which owns several restaurant brands, was one of the first to trial delivery via third-party services. And when the pandemic hit last year and shut down dining rooms, Fat Brands was quick to respond by launching virtual concepts in its existing restaurant locations.
Since that time, the company has acquired the Johnny Rockets brand and completed merger with Fog Cutter Capital Group, among other milestones from the last year and a half.
Fat Brands CEO Andy Wiederhorn will share his thoughts on digitizing a restaurant company in the pandemic era at The Spoon’s upcoming Restaurant Tech Summit on August 17. As a teaser, we recently got some high-level thoughts from him around the future of virtual restaurants, ghost kitchens, restaurant tech, and more. Full Q&A is below. And if you haven’t already, grab a ticket to the virtual show here.
This Q&A has been lightly edited for clarity.
The Spoon: What problem does FAT Brands solve for restaurants/the restaurant industry as a franchisor?
Andy Wiederhorn: One thing that’s especially exciting in today’s landscape is our multi-concept offerings. We make it efficient for franchisees to be able to operate a variety of concepts under the same umbrella under one franchisor. As a result, our franchisees are able to offer things like virtual restaurants out the back door of their anchor brand. Under other franchisors, this wouldn’t be permissible.
What is the biggest change in terms of the restaurant industry’s approach towards technology as a result of the pandemic?
Delivery adoption has far exceeded what was an already impressive growth trajectory. The shift to online ordering also accelerated dramatically. This led to innovative changes in tamper-proof packaging, POS and more. There is still so much more to come regarding increasing speed of service, labor crisis relief, and overall margin improvement thanks to rising wages.
Is the restaurant dining room going away for fast casual/QSR formats?
No. Are they evolving to accommodate digital users? Yes. These formats also need to evolve to accommodate virtual restaurant capabilities. At the end of the day, people want to go out to eat and, more specifically, want to eat and socialize in a dining room. If you look at restaurant sales today, it’s abundantly clear there is a strong demand for people to eat and socialize in restaurants.
What is the biggest challenge for restaurants right now when it comes to digitization?
The biggest challenge for restaurants starts with finding the right POS system. Outdated POS makes it very difficult to implement exciting new technology as they don’t have robust systems to tap into API. New cloud-based systems allow for quick and easy pivots that lead to a comprehensive ecosystem encompassing delivery, loyalty, mobile payments, apps and more software solutions.
What are you most excited about when it comes to the impact of restaurant technology?
I’m excited about restaurant technology enhancing dining experiences. I don’t think people want robots to replace good servers, but there are exciting opportunities to improve everything from speed of service to overall efficiency.
What do you think the restaurant industry will look like in five years?
Five years from now, I think restaurants will be built upon the internet of things. Your POS talks to your grill, who talks to your fryer, who talks to your walk-in fridge, who makes an order to your potato supplier without a manager or cook having to lift a finger.