Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers entered the COVID pandemic at an all-time high.
In 2019, the brand saw its 12th straight period of positive same-store sales growth and earned more than $500 million in sales for the first time in history—good for a 14.5 percent increase compared to 2018. In addition, the brand opened 40 restaurants, including its first international units in Dubai and nontraditional locations in universities and a casino. Eighty-three franchise restaurant options were added, expanding the brand’s system in Florida, Pennsylvania, and Georgia.
According to Scott Redler, co-founder and chief operating officer, that momentum carried into the first two months of 2020. Then in March, the COVID pandemic swept across the restaurant industry, cratering sales in its path. Freddy’s had one week where it was down 38 percent.
However, it wasn’t as though that momentum disappeared. Instead, it provided an extra boost for Freddy’s as it prepared to face the new environment.
“I think the very strong start to 2020 helped give us the confidence to make the right decisions moving forward. We make guest-driven decisions and employee-driven decisions,” Redler says. “And by doing that, we felt we were able to keep everybody safe to the best of our ability and still execute and take care of our guests with their Freddy’s cravings.”
Like other concepts, Freddy’s, which has more than 375 locations across the country, quickly pivoted and focused on what it was capable of—drive-thru, carryout, and delivery. The immense effort included what Redler describes as a cross-functional team meeting among marketing and public relations, operations, construction, IT and more.
It was a gathering that Freddy’s rarely ever does, but the situation called for it.
“We had everyone start talking about what we can do,” Redler recalls. “And we laser-focused on drive-thru to understand the process that a guest goes through in the drive-thru, and we were able to take that and speed it up significantly, which is really the thing that has kept us rolling at the pace we are.”
The team meeting proved beneficial. In the past two months, comps have grown 15 percent year-over-year. In July, the brand experienced a 47 percent increase in drive-thru traffic and reduced wait times by 28 percent.
Redler says that while studying ways to reduce wait times, the team looked at every step in the process and realized there was more time available in the area where orders are taken. So Freddy’s moved functions around, and by doing so, the restaurant increased the time it had to take care of guests.
Based on what we learned when we were dealt this crisis like every other company in America, we’re going to take the skills and the processes that we’ve learned to make ourselves better there and definitely use those to impact our future,” Redler says. “And a lot of things that we did are benefitting us through COVID, and they’re long-term solutions that will benefit us forever.”
The COO notes that Freddy’s took a “very conservative” approach to reopening dining rooms. The company brought a group to a prototype store in Wichita, Kansas, and did a walkthrough. At that point, the chain decided to implement “The Freddy’s Way.”
Some of the key measures include installing dividers between booths, placing plexiglas shields in front of cashiers, and mandating employees wear masks, even before states required it.
“It’s just the right way to do it,” Redler says. “Forget about what rules were mandated by each individual state. We wanted our system to be at or better than any state in the union with the protocols we put in place … We decided that continuing to win the confidence of our guests was our No. 1 goal. We’ve been doing that for 18 years with the way we do food and hospitality, and we approached the pandemic with the same focus to take care of our guests and exactly as they would want it done.”