Restaurant Rockstars Episode 362
A Restaurant Dining Experience to Remember
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Restaurants are all about people coming together, celebrating good times & life events.
Doing this well requires: a strong company culture, training your team in hospitality & consistency, providing a unique product offering and a winning brand strategy.
In this episode of the Restaurant Rockstars Podcast, I’m speaking with Collin Benyo, Franchise Growth Strategist for a dynamic restaurant concept called “The Melting Pot”.
This iconic restaurant brand is hitting all the bases. They are 48 years young, and now remodeling their national locations plus adding new stores.
The Melting Pot promises a unique interactive dining experience ideal for celebrating and making memories with family & friends.
Watch or listen as Collin tells us about this restaurant brand including:
- How a strong restaurant culture delivers amazing guest service.
- Why their restaurants are the epicenter of celebration.
- What experiential dining is all about by offering interactive tableside cooking.
- The key to team onboarding and training for consistently great guest experiences
- How to build business with unique theme night promotions
- The benefits of creating a strong beverage and cocktail program to complement your cuisine.
As well as the company’s core values of inclusion, diversity and giving back to a noble cause.
I really love that The Melting Pot also up-levels their job descriptions to demonstrate that they really value their people.
Rather than our standard industry terms, such as hosts, kitchen staff, and the dish pit, The Melting Pot instead uses: “Hospitality Specialists, “The Heart of House” and the “Dish Palace”.
I love it! This episode has it all.
Stay tuned to this episode, then go out there and ROCK your Restaurant!
Connect with our guest:
Welcome back. Thanks for joining me on the podcast. My guest today, Mr. Collin Benyo is the franchise growth strategist for a really dynamic concept called the melting pot. The concept is all about celebration, and interactive experiences where you’re literally cooking at your table. It’s a whole about fondue and decadent food and entrees and a full beverage program including specialty cocktails, beer and wine. really dynamic marketing. And there’s so much to learn here, so many key nuggets, and also give back to the community and a bigger cause. So it’s got everything you’re not gonna want to miss this.
Thanks so much to the sponsors this week. And let me tell you about the restaurant rockstars Academy, whether you’re starting your very first restaurant or you’ve been in business for a while, and you just want to refine your marketing your cost controls and how to maximize profit staff training for service and salesmanship and efficiencies across your organization. It’s really the perfect training system to up-level your management team. And now you can literally give access to up to 25 people for free in your organization so that they learn to run your business for you. It’s all at the restaurant rockstars Academy at restaurantrockstars.com Now on with the Episode
You’re tuned in to the restaurant rockstars podcast powerful ideas to rock your restaurant. Here’s your host Roger Beaudoin.
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Hey everyone, welcome back to the restaurant rockstars podcast and Colin Welcome to the show today so happy you’re here. How are you?
Roger doing good pleasure to be on.
Awesome coming live from Sarasota Florida can’t wait to talk to you all about the melting pot. So let’s start with your backstory and hospitality. When did it all begin for you?
Yeah, well, I was born and raised in Tampa and originally was a busser at a place called rice and CO at the citrus Park Mall way back in the day right when that kind of opened up and it was a hot place to be in Tampa and then from there dishwasher at a famous joint in the Tampa which unfortunately not there anymore Mama’s pizza. But ultimately I went off to school. I played soccer in college and you know tried to focus on a career in sports and I wanted to be that you know, that next great player from from America to make it big but when I was leaving In college, I needed a job to kind of subsidize what I was doing back home as I was training. And I actually ended up serving at the melting pot restaurant in Tampa, Florida. Now, what, you know, you led into many goals as a goalkeeper. And, you know, they’re not asking anymore if you want to join the team. So I eventually I had to make my way to a life of what I wanted to follow. And a district manager asked me if I was interested in kind of taking the leadership that I had that he had seen in me and bringing it down to Sarasota from Tampa. So went there, saw the facility saw everything I was interested in, knew the brand loved it. And was there for 15 years of operation as a manager, a little time back and St. Pete. But ultimately, that was my home for a long time as it is now.
That’s a good story. What sport are we talking about hockey or soccer?
Soccer I was I played since I was in third grade, I loved it. And I think they put me in gold just because I was the tall kid. And I was the only one that could, you know, reach the bar. But other than that, it was a passion of mine for a long, long time.
Right on, let’s talk about the history of the brand called melting pot. It’s a really unique concept. And I believe you’re in 30 Plus States and Canada, across the country. There’s a tremendous amount of locations. But let’s talk about where it all began. And what’s the history of the brand. And then we’re going to dive into the nuts and bolts of what makes it special.
Yeah, well, I mean, the the melting pot itself is special just because of what we do. But the story of how everything started is even more interesting, because the gentleman Bruce, and Roy, who started the melting pot, 1975 and Maitland just a little north of Orlando. They were looking for a concept or something that they could get interested in that not anyone else was doing at that point. So fondue was not a something that you regularly saw in any town. And they said, Well, let’s go ahead and do this. And the funny part about it is that Bruce and Roy have been to a lot of our conferences, so operators, conferences, franchisees conferences, and they have spoke about their adventure and everything they did in order to start this brand. And I’ll tell you what, I don’t know how I’m talking to you right now, because Bruce and Roy were not restaurant guys. They were they had no idea what they were doing. They were running around like crazy. The stories they share are absolutely hilarious about how they started the brand and got off. But at the end of the day, they were smart businessmen, and they knew what they do. They knew what they needed to do. They knew their costs. And eventually, they moved their second store to Tallahassee. And from there, the Johnston brothers were actually interested in the brand, they worked at that location. And they came to Bruce and Roy and essentially said, Hey, we would like to franchise, this concept with your blessing. And sure enough, the store was handed off. And the Johnson brothers started their location down in Tampa, Florida for the headquarters. But the interesting part about the story, even more so is that there was a third brother who joined the team. This was the dishwasher. This was a 15 year old Bob Johnston. And he had no money. He essentially just went to his brothers and said, How do I get involved with this? What do I do? And so he literally dish washed his way into equity of this business. And as of today, I meet twice a week with the CEO of the company, Bob Johnston.
From dishwasher to CEO, Awesome.
Thats the story, Yeah. its his first job and his last job. That’s what he always tells us.
Well, now that’s tremendous. And I you know, I often say this, but this is an industry that if you’ve got a passion, and if you really care about hospitality, and the chemistry that restaurants are all about and meeting new people, whether that’s the guests or other fellow team members, you can take this as far as you can all the way to the executive suite with no formal education. It just takes, you know, that fire in the belly, the willingness to learn to really apply yourself and set yourself apart. And that is prime example. I think that’s tremendous. I love it. Thanks so much for sharing that story. So, fondue now, I’m a big fan of Switzerland. It’s like I’ve been to Switzerland numerous times. So I’m a skier I’m a climber and to me fondue. It’s either a Swiss or it’s an Austrian dish by Origin. Is it not? Correct? Swiss? Yeah. Okay. It’s a Swiss dish. And it’s like you can’t walk in any restaurant in a lot of Europe with it’s Germany and Austria and Switzerland and fondue is the thing. And it really brings people together. And one of the things that really struck me I visited your website, I think it’s very well done. By the way, it really invites you in so a really great job in the website. But it really shows you about the bonding and the connection that people have when they have dining experience. It’s it seems like the perfect celebratory concept, I guess, is that how you describe it?
I think it’s the best way to describe it. We work in a business that is very interesting. You know, when restaurants across America feed people, they are providing a service at a moment for people to enjoy. But the way that we do things is that we kind of take that concept and run full force with it. You know, we have people coming into our restaurant that are celebrating birthdays and anniversaries, that’s a lot of people do a lot of different restaurants. Of course, the concept of fondue is to slow down, enjoy what’s happening at the table as much as the people that are around the table with you. So I’ve personally saw that running the restaurants as long as I did, you know, I was there for 15 years, watching families come back time after time, and you would see the progression of these folks grow up. I mean, I knew I was in the restaurant business a long time when I was seeing, you know, young kids who had celebrated their sixth or eighth birthday. And then they were telling me about their plans for college and where they are heading off to. So we have kind of made a concept that connects people to what we do, the culture, the food, and really the opportunity to stop, slow down and enjoy a time together in a moment that they’re going to remember forever. So that’s, that’s a really the selling point of what we do as a brand. And it’s a value we hold dear.
That’s beautiful. That’s beautiful. Now you use a term experiential dining, because you’re providing a real experience. Can you elaborate on that a little bit more like walk us through as an audience if we’ve never been to a melting pot before, and we pull into the parking lot take us through the walking through the front door, the sights, the sounds, the smells, the vibe, it’s like the camaraderie. What’s a typical experience? Like it’s it’s a many things I’m sure, but there’s definitely aromas and, and celebration and all that going on. But I’ve never been into one. And I’m really intrigued to visit one now. So but take us through the experience, if you would.
Yeah. Well, traditionally, we do four courses at the restaurant, a cheese fondue, beginning salad, entree course, and obviously a chocolate fondue at the end, which everyone was excited about. But the way I describe it is that we are a concept that people circle on their calendar, you know that we are a different kind of eating, dining experience that experiential dining. So when people come to us a lot of times there’s a level of anticipation really, that I kind of have noticed as a as an operator for a long time that people are excited to come in. There’s very few times that people come to melting pot and they’re just hungry just to eat. And that’s happens. But at the same time, I feel like melting pot is kind of a a like you’re saying experiental dining, that people are circling on the calendar, they might skip lunch knowing full well that they’re coming to a four course dinner because yeah, meal.
It’s indulgent right? In some ways.
There’s no question about it. Yeah, I mean, you’re, you’re essentially taking a very simple concept of culinary. But what you’re doing is exploiting things that we have focused in on for the side, great drink, exceptional food, beautiful service, great atmosphere, all those things incorporate into what I think people walk away with when they have a dining experience with us. So it’s memories that last for a long time. It’s the the cheese that you chose that you know, you could pull off the fork and go all the way to the ceiling with. The entree itself to is in a lot of people sometimes don’t understand this is that it is a you cook, table side, the entree choices that you choose. So the cooking style is on the table on the cooktop, which every table has one or multiple, and the cook all the food comes out unprepared. And so you’re taking small bite sized perfect pieces, steak, lobster, duck, chicken, shrimp, ahi, tuna, whatever it is, and you’re cooking it for a very short time to pull out. And then you have the optional sauces to dip into. So you have, you know, the teriyaki glaze or the ginger plum, or our famous Green Goddess, which I mean, people go crazy over with the stuffed mushrooms that we do. So you have a lot of people coming in kind of getting ready for an experience, you know, happy to be there happy to talk about how to talk about life that’s happening, but at the same time, they’re all enjoying the experience of what’s happening on the table.
Wow, you know, I’d call that a real competitive advantage because the restaurant industry is by far one of the most, if not the most competitive business I can think of yet this concept is so unique and different and has so many, you know what I would call key success factors that add to the appeal. It’s like, well, you know, yeah, there’s competition, but not as unique is this so that’s really awesome. Now, I remember being a kid I grew up in the 70s and 80s and whatnot. And I remember it’s like you could buy fondue pots and it was kind of a big thing in the 70s You know, and it would come with a little forks of the skewers, whatever you want to call them and stuff and it was like an at home thing to do. And that was like a trend and it kind of lost favor. But this isn’t trendy, like this has staying power. Like you go to a restaurant for that experience. You’re what’s really unique again, as you mentioned, as it’s being cooked, you cook it right there at the table and you’ve got this complete variety of foods, the seafood, the steak, and then the chocolate dessert that’s really decadent. Let’s talk about the kinds of cheeses that work well in Is it Swiss cheeses like Emmentaler? Or is it different? I mean, can you choose your cheeses? Tell us about that.
So the great part about us is speaking of competitive edges is having partners like we do. We work with a company called me Roth out of Wisconsin. And I always tell people, as far as cheese goes, Wisconsin, this is the Ferrari of cheese this company is absolutely incredible. They make proprietary cheese blends just for us. And some of those cheese blends are like you’re saying, the Swiss plan with the Greek air and the Emmentaler. Yes, amazing. You’ve got a cheddar, blend that is absolute incredible. And then a fontina, butter case cheese, a little bit more creamy, a little bit softer. But at the end of the day, these are cheeses that you can’t get anywhere else. These are cheeses that are made just for us at our almost 100 stores across the United States and Canada. And when you come in, it’s an experience that you cant make anywhere else that you’re getting just with us.
beautiful. That’s fantastic. Let’s talk about company culture. How would you describe your company culture at the melting pot?
Yeah, I would say the first thing first is that you have pillars of values that we make sure are in place, not only from the store level, but the franchisees and employees and how they come in, we provide what we essentially call the perfect night out. And that is the dedication to recognizing the fact that the people that are coming into this restaurant are happy to be there. And we want to make sure they’re even happier when they leave. So happy team members, immaculate, inviting surrounding areas, and ultimately exciting and beautiful food to have on the table. So when you have a culture that, quite frankly, kind of makes the work environment, great to be in not only from a guest perspective, from the employee standpoint, that’s why I stuck with melting pot. As long as I have, I just understand the difference of what we’re doing versus a lot of concepts. And it makes sense, it makes sense to me makes sense to our guests. And it makes sense to our franchisees that are, you know, growing and doing great in this community.
Okay, excellent. That’s, that’s terrific. I mean, there’s a huge difference between having a real true culture that everyone buys into that everyone follows. It’s almost like a guiding light versus a mission statement that, you know, it’s kind of old and tired. But a true company culture really builds that team spirit. And it sounds like you’ve got that going. So a follow up to that would be as long as we’ve got this really solid company culture, how do you impart that to new employees? What’s the onboarding and the training philosophy, like within individual stores? Because it is a franchise? After all, you’ve got to maintain consistency yet that is a pillar of hospitality, right? The staff and the foundation of your business. So let’s talk about some of your training philosophies in the onboarding process.
Yeah, well, training and education is massive in any hospitality setting. But Melting pot does a really great job at it with a company approach called you melt. It’s our online training. I think you get the pun there. But yeah, you melt is the the University Online training course, that we provide every positional job in the company, that’s from the dish Palace, to the line, to the bartender to the hospitality specialist, and obviously, the servers. So every person has the same training that they would experience. So whether you’re in Sarasota, Florida, or Bellevue, Washington or anywhere else in the United States, that’s the same culture that we’re imparting on people. So it’s not only just the standard operating procedures, which are, you know, powerful, and you need to know those things. But the culture itself, you know, what is the mission? What are we trying to accomplish every night when people come in here, and that’s everyone’s responsibility. It’s not just the managers who’s you know, opening the door and locking up at the end of the night. It’s anyone that has an involvement with the guest. And I would say, the culture itself extends even further into how much we do with St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital to this is a national campaign that we work with, we’re a part of their program called thanks and giving. And I think In a total I think we are close to $20 million total that we’ve had, and we had a great year last year based on the fact that we broke a million dollars for the first time ever, and so much so that our dedication to it is that if you see Bob Johnston on our videos online, he’s got a little less hair. Because Bob did today, if you guys make a million dollars in donations to St. Jude, I will shave my head live on our leadership exchange live to the entire melting pot community and he true to his word. He’s walking around with a nice shaved head, so he’s as committed as anybody.
That’s a wonderful cause. I mean, that’s life threatening diseases for children at no cost to the family. And they have some amazing success stories. So that’s a long tradition, but what a beautiful thing and wow, there’s a give back tremendous. Oh, you know, Bob shaved his head to make that goal happen. What’s he going to do next year to top that goal?
Now we’re looking at his eyebrows, we’ll figure out what we’re gonna do.
Okay, that’s, that’s so cool. Now I understand that this brand is going through sort of a makeover. You’re remodeling stores. How extensive is that? And what was the old kinda versus the new? And that’s creating a huge buzz in the marketplace? Right? It’s it’s a complete freshening, does it go beyond that tell us about the remodel.
Yeah, I think a lot of people because of who we are, which is a legacy brand that’s been around for as of this April 48 years, that’s a big time for a franchise opportunity to be around, given what we are in hospitality and you know, the competition levels we have. But what we did was essentially look at our, our buildings and our plans for new build and say, We need to keep up with what’s happening, we need to do a different approach. And so our construction design team, along with others came across what we call melting pot evolution in PE as we say, internally, but this is a complete kind of new approach to what we did. So back in the day, you would have melted pots, which some people might be aware of that were very close, very dark, very romantic, you know, tight tables, and you know, that intimacy, that used to be a great thing that people were attracted to, we still have some options for that we call it Lovers Lane, it’s always in every melting pot, those little two tops for those special anniversaries and birthdays. we’ve seen consumers changed, consumers are now open to different ways to kind of experience restaurants, it’s not always the same thing. And we recognize that a lot of our stores were kind of focused on the dining room and the bar was a second option, not any longer, we are now approaching the consumer to experience melting pot in a number of different ways. It doesn’t always have to be that date night, it could be, you know, a ladies night out, it could be after drink after work drinks and cheese, it could even be someone coming from another restaurant, who’s coming just to have chocolate at the bar. So we’ve kind of opened up the possibility of different sales areas, different revenue centers, and lightened up the atmosphere much more open, much more decadent, and just really keeping up with trends. And that’s not only been through our entire brand, which by June of next year, every melting pot will have gone through this in PE renovation, but all the new builds as well. They’re all in fashion, I’m making sure that, you know, we optimize the square footage that we’re using, and we’re providing our guests the way that they want to experience fondue, because it’s not always the same.
How many seats are in a typical melting pot and square footage of a typical location?
Depends on each one. You know, we depends on the market as well. I think what we do is appropriately place restaurant size wise the way they need to be in the restaurants but I would say square footage you’re looking at typically, around 4500 around 5700 Is that sweet spot to really find a great space, good size
store for sure. Okay, that that gives us an idea. So you mentioned bar, is it a full bar? Is it just beer and wine? What do you offer?
Oh, no, and Fontana if she’s listening, she would be very remiss if I didn’t talk about a great liquor program that we do. But for full bar, you’ve got great options for beer, great options for cocktails, which are very popular. And obviously wine is a natural pairing. So we go all the way every melting pot we have has to make sure that we do that because our cocktails and wine and alcohol are phenomenal. We do very very well with that and we’re progressing and making new options for guests all the time.
That’s very appealing to a potential franchisee you know, not every franchise in this restaurant space has a full bar. And obviously bars, you know, provide so much profit to an operation. And it obviously gives a bigger draw for people to want to come. So thanks for sharing. Now the pandemic really opened up a new opportunity in many states to do cocktails to go and then a lot of snakes continued that because it was such a big hit. And it it you know, some people would say it even helped, you know, revitalize the industry and definitely keep a lot of businesses alive. Do you guys have alcohol to go program? Can you have cocktails that are sealed and out the door kind of thing?
I think it depends state to state. But I know in Florida when I was going through that, you know, quite frankly very scary time in my life. You know, I knew and everyone was, you know, the hospitality industry really got rocked, you know, you had a lot of people wondering, you know, what are we doing? What are we doing next. But the support that we got from melting pot was phenomenal. I mean, we essentially lost no melting pots during that time. That’s as big as we dropped essentially the sales department, we didn’t really want to focus on growth, knowing where people were and how scared they were. So Bob and team went in and said, We need to make sure that we are taking care of our family, which we essentially call them because yeah, that’s where they are. You know, these are men and women who have invested into an opportunity that isn’t competitive with other things with other franchisees. So if you see a melting pot that more than likely is not a melting pot for a long distance because we understand the range of what we grow, go to and and can reach. So when we’re existing and stores we can actually see data to know how far there reaches to understand what demographics there working with. So the job of the team is to Go in, find those demographics figure out who’s, you know, coming to the melting pot and place new growth, not in a competitive, you know, cannibalistic way with those current stores. But back to alcohol. Yeah, I think some of us did. And I remember us doing it in Florida for quite a bit. But now the focus really is exceptional food and beverage and we do a really good job with that at the bar specifically because there are cooktops on the bar too. Because when you come in and eat, you actually can have full four courses there or any course you want. But you know, if you’re sitting at a bar, you got a great bartender right there to serve. You know, classic drinks like the Yin Yang. Everyone loves a love Martini. I’m a big fan of the freshly picked Margarita, that’s my go to every time
I’m a margarita guy. I can see I can hear so there’s Okay, so we got beer wine full bar, you can get your Tangri and tonic if you want. But you also have a specialty cocktail program with specialty drinks that sort of accompany and complement the fondue experience as well. That sounds great. Yeah, got it all dialed you know, when I eat out, my wife and I like to sit at the bar. In many ways. Sometimes we’ll have a table if it’s special occasion. But there’s something really fun about sitting at a bar and interacting with the bartender, and just being part of that whole scene. And it sounds like you’ve got that going on as well. Very cool. Yeah. All right. Let’s talk about branding is really powerful. Again, all this is visible on the website. But I want to emphasize to the audience the importance and the power of having really unique and creative names not only for menu items, but for special promotions. Now you’ve got special theme nights Wednesday’s friends day and I love you know Thurs date night, which is really cool. Right. And that’s for romance. Of course, you have a date or whatever. And there’s something going on all the time. But it’s a reason to come back again and again, and and reach multiple demographics and different people’s depending on what they’re looking for, you know, savor every moment is a tagline. It’s like, you gotta go in on, you must have a great, you know, marketing graphics department too.
But like I said, I’ve been with this company for a long time. And I’ve seen almost a revolution on how good this marketing team is along with others like Justin cross, Carmen Marilla, they are taking what we’re doing, and putting the data and the science behind what a true branding effort looks like. I mean, this is not a coincidence, this is not luck. This is a true dedication to these men and women who are seeing what melting pot is and taking full advantage of it. I mean, I like I said, back in the day, you know, if you put put on a beer dinner, there was some cursory information and you know, good luck and you take you’re not any longer I mean, they’ve essentially said, We’re gonna make these national programs that, you know, put emphasis on certain dates. So the best friend fondue Friends Forever BFF. On Wednesday, the great thing to come out for people just doing a couple of courses, a couple of drinks with friends, like you mentioned thurs- date. I mean, that was literally because when we researched the days of the week, we saw Thursday as a massive opportunity we were not taking advantage of so. Anna and friends essentially went in, saw this market saw this opportunity and said, We need to create a moment we need to create a reason. And Thursday is that reason, it’s that romantic night to come out, relax. It’s not the weekend, but you probably have the babysitter. It’s great. They do an amazing job at that. And so I can say full heartedly, the franchisees we have in place now have trusting and happy with the way that the marketing efforts are going now more than ever.
Yeah, another reason to obviously have interest and to be a franchisee this company, you’ve got all the pieces put together. Marketing is definitely a foundational building block. And it appears to be very well done. You know, let’s talk about your loyalty. You’ve got something called the fondue club. How does it work?
Yep. I mean, we’ve got the loyalty of club fondue going in every restaurant, what you’re doing is getting all the information about how you come in when the events are coming email, I think it’s pretty standard. But you know, the standout of what we do is we sign up for that birthday, chocolate covered dip strawberries when you come in and let the hospitality specialist know on your reservation. So that’s a nice way to do it. But it’s a great thing for us at a level because we’re able to use that data and understand who our guests are to understand what they want and what they’re desiring and so they do a really nice job of taking information and saying how can we serve these folks better?
You mentioned several times the term hospitality specialist Is that referring to the host greeters at the door though your first sort of line of offense and the last person you see on the way out the door that’s a not only a greeter, but a brand ambassador that really sort of takes you by the hand and shows you or demonstrates the experience and makes you feel welcome and at home. Is that what that’s all about?
Yeah, there’s a couple different phrases we use because I think we see service a little bit differently than most people. So our hostess position as most people know, it is the hospitality specialists. We want to make sure that they understand you No, they’re not just the person, you know, opening the door and walking people or table, they are the first line of conversation of site, taking care of the front of the restaurant and make sure everything looks great. So as important as any server bartender or person in the kitchen is they are equally as important. So we want to make sure we emphasize that. But some of the other things like when I mentioned the dishwasher, we call it the dish palace. We don’t call it the dish pit.
Ive heard you say that. I’ve never heard that before. But that is really cool.
Back of house is usually referred to in the kitchen we refer to as the Heart of House, because that’s where everything starts. That’s how the restaurant beats. So if the kitchen is rockin and rollin on a Saturday night, you know it really quickly how great things couldn’t move in the kitchens on point
It really makes people take pride in what they’re doing, too. I think, you know, dish pit is sort of a derogatory term dish Palace sort of elevates, it makes you feel like, Hey, this is a special position, it’s critical to the back to the heart of house, it’s critical to the front of house, and you start here, you could become CEO a couple of years, but you could be the nice Bob and shave your head. You know, exactly. That’s awesome. Yeah. I mean, you’ve thought through so many details here. That’s great. You know, what else works for marketing? Do you have a big social media sort of strategy as well? Or no, you know, what’s going to work?
So, I think the good thing to mention when we talk about franchising is that a lot of people don’t come from a hospitality background. You know, I have people that we talked to, I mean, literally currently, right now, I just came back from Texas talking to some folks, they have no restaurant experience, but what we provide them is the systems in place to get to where they need to go have the backing have the understanding and the experience of professionals 65 plus people running Tampa, Florida and out in the field, you know, for 100 stores. So they have massive backings for things like marketing, great examples that every person is tasked with AOR of running their own store area of responsibility. So they are tasked to provide marketing the efforts and things that they want to do. But thing that they have in their back pocket is a brand ambassador, every restaurant has a marketing specific person provided to them to guide them to help them this is things like making sure they’re, you know, on the local television spots where they’re spending their dollars. And we also have a co op spend that goes into a national campaign to help the brand and a whole so when we talk about marketing again, the support is fully there. If you know what you’re doing or you don’t you’ve got good background.
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That’s tremendous. And obviously locational specialists and helping people choose the right location and then build out of the stores and all that is fully supported. So you must have tremendous leverage with suppliers as well the economies of scale thing because one of the challenges, obviously, is inflation and cost of goods. Is your menu. Has your menu been impacted much with rising costs? I mean, the cheese has that been really volatile? Obviously steak and seafood and all those things and how have you dealt with that?
They’ve done a very nice job at it. I mean, we have a team in place for purchasing and distribution that are you know, buying large levels for contracted things. A lot of the items like our cheeses and our meats are going to our stores because they’re on a bigger buying power. Now we’ve sourced locally for things like produce, as most restaurants do, costs are up. I mean, that’s the bottom line. But the way that we balanced that is making sure that we provide a meaningful service that people when they get that bill and they say, you know, we spent a lot, but I didn’t feel like it. I felt like the experience was there. And that’s something we hang our hat on we have for a long time.
So let’s move over to the labor equation because everyone’s talked about labor in this business for the past two years. It’s been the biggest challenge to the industry in some way. concepts, I’m guessing yours based on your company culture has had less of a challenge than others. Primarily, I’m getting the sense that this is a leadership organization versus a management organization. And those are two different things. And the way you make people feel the way you elevate them and give them opportunities and responsibilities tends to lower turnover and increase longevity. But have you had much of an impact with with labor and, and the high cost of labor and all those things.
They all come to I mean, at the end of the day, the industry itself obviously sees it. But I think every industry seen it, I think a lot of people are reassessing and valuing what they want to be doing in life and then making the changes. One of the things that I can say specifically for us, is that typically through the business, we run 16 to 22%, on on labor costs hourly, which is great. That’s the thing that the thing that I always appreciate when I was looking at my workspace when I was in Sarasota is that I was never hamstrung to having to look at people that were specifically only hospitality back. So when I went on the job market, I was finding someone from my kitchen, I didn’t need to find someone that had years of experience behind a grill or came from Johnson and Wales, because they played it next to this famous chef. At the end of the day, I hired great people. And that was first and foremost people that I wanted to be around, you know, we’re an operating a restaurant, you’re in that restaurant a lot, I might see that person more than I see my own wife, on certain weeks, you’re at the end of the day, I liked my wife and I want to be around her. So if you’re gonna have more time with me than her, I better like you. So that was a huge plus, for me as an operator, I was able to hire people that didn’t necessarily have to be, you know, culinary trained, because of the simplicity of what melting pot does, we just have to hire great, charismatic, responsible fun people that make working alongside each other great, let us say thanks for servers, you know, we do such a different approach to how we, you know, take care of our guests, you know, certain servers at restaurants, I think might have 7,8,10 tables or something, you know, they’re running around just trying to get food on tables and bottom as fast as I can. Typically restaurants and melting pot, they only hand out maybe 2,3,4 tables at a time. And what you’re doing is you’re truly serving them, they should know your name at the time they leave that restaurant. And that’s what happens. We’re providing them almost a managerial hat, because they’re in charge of making sure that everything goes well, that they know what they’re doing. They feel comfortable, they have the full service. If they have questions, they’re answered, and the service is prompt, and as a team service with a lot of people and a lot of moving parts. But you don’t need to have a server who has been in the industry for 20 years to hire again, I just hired great people. And because of the training that we have in place, we made great servers that stay with me for 6,7,10 years. I even the store that I left that to have this job I’m in now, which is franchising. I went over there, and there’s still kids that I hired, that are still in place that are still serving, not because they love me, but they love the brand, and they’re still they’re happy.
That’s awesome. You know, I know our audience is paying attention to every word you’re saying. But it really is you can’t train for personality, you can train for experience, you know, and it really is all about the personality of the people. And do they work well together do the right approach to they have a true desire to serve the public? You know, it’s it’s a camaraderie thing. There’s such a chemistry in a well run restaurant where it’s such a fun environment to be part of. And that’s on the guest side as well as on the team member side. So that’s exactly on target. That’s how we ran things, as well. Let’s talk a little bit about your hotel partner strategy. Now, some locations are going inside hotels, and are those smaller locations? Or are you finding bigger spaces and who are some of your hotel partners.
So we are strategizing in order to partner up with hotels to fill spaces underneath their brand, and their title. So the best example we have is our store in King of Prussia, they share a space and parking lot with a hotel. Then because of the partnership, they help each other. They you know, they share the same parking lot. They have the same guests. But what I think our ultimate goal and what we’re trying to express these hotels is that if you have a space that is open, and you’re looking for attention from the local community, as hotels kind of struggle to get because, you know, no one locally is saying oh, I can’t wait to spend money to stay in a place 20 feet from my house. They’re usually people from out of town. So like I think a lot of time the local focus for hotels is very, it’s very shallow and very, you know, hard to get. So what our job and we’re trying to do with this approach is to bring a world class hospitality organization into a hotel of equal hospitality excellence. And that partnership is great. They know what they’re doing on a hospitality and they know how to keep the place great, how to make sure that everything is looking fantastic around the hotel, and then we bring in that local focus to have the hotel known as the hotel that has a melting pot, and I can’t wait to go there on Saturday night.
Now that makes perfect sense also, because not every hotel has this issue. But one of the challenges of a hotel is people come in from out of town, they stay at a hotel, regardless of the price point. And their first thought is I want to get outside this hotel and explore the community and go to this restaurant that’s, you know, in the middle of that downtown area, whatever it is, and in hotels have sometimes struggled with keeping people within their dining operations for that very reason. But now your concept can hold a candle to any of those outside concepts in terms of excitement and fun factor. And you walk through the lobby, and if you see this concept, and the people bonding and celebrating over the fondue, it’s like, I’m there, you know, that’s them. That’s my first thought. I think that’s strategically powerful.
We draw, or I think we draw attention for hotels to to say, if there’s an event that people are having, if it’s business professionalism, if it’s a bachelorette party, if it’s a get together, I mean, we have the ability to bring those large parties in and see them in the restaurant, but keep them in that hotel. And I think that’s what you know, is attractive to these Hoteliers and what they’re looking for, which has an attraction to keep focus on their stores and bringing guests as equally as much as we are
nice. We talked about the noble cause of St. Jude’s Hospital, but your company also has some core values around inclusion and diversity, do want to speak to them?
Yeah, we essentially are a big, big proponent of everything we can do to make sure that anyone that comes to us for a franchise opportunity or employment, they’re seen in the same light as anybody else. So much so that at the corporate level, we actually have a diversity inclusion Committee, led by a gentleman named Dan stone, who’s been with the company for 17 years. And we talked about that. Internally, we talked about that with our franchisees and we talked about that at the employment level to so that people understand where we are with these subjects and make sure that, you know, full transparency, we’re an equal opportunity, we want everyone to understand and love melting pot.
Awesome. So in terms of future growth, obviously, this country is, you know, you’ve got locations in 30 Plus states, like You’ve almost got coverage across the country. And now is Canada a big push of the future? Or how about international, like, European concepts possible? I mean, what’s the future of melting pot looking like?
We dabbled in international at one point. And unfortunately, it just didn’t come through. But I would say the focus right now is here in the United States. I mean, there’s so many cities that I see all the time, because we actually invest with a company called Site Zeus. And this is an AI driven algorithm that provides us with immense amount of tracking data, even estimations of if I took a pin and dropped it anywhere in the United States. What would a rolling 12 months look like? And so we want to be able to say, we have gotten every territory we can the United States before we go elsewhere, and believe me, I’ve got great opportunities that I’m looking at all the time, that I say, Man, I wish I could just find the right person for this city because it looks fantastic.
Sky’s the limit. That’s fantastic. Is there a typical day for you at melting pot? I mean, every day must be different. But what what would your day like your week be like,
I love the brand. I love the job. And so it doesn’t feel like work. I mean, I’m able to do a really nice job with the corporate side. I work from home. And typically the folks that the restaurants Support Center in Tampa, are doing kind of a split, they do a Monday, Wednesday, Friday in house and a Tuesday Thursday workday, where really what the company has said is like, we want to give you time in order to, you know, focus on what your task is, did all the information you need to get done, and then actually convey it to everyone else on those Monday, Wednesday, Friday. So they do a very nice job of making sure that we are taking care of and doing our best for our franchisees. But as far as the restaurant life goes, you’re with people that you love being around. And that’s why I love my store so much I still talk to my staff, even now in this new position. I have old staff members that I wish happy birthday are hanging out with and you know, it’s just nice because I was able to be around them and, you know, hang out with them as long as as much as I did. You know, they are friends and family literally.
So when you are part of it, you know, a fast growing organization, especially your franchise, consistency is absolutely essential. Is there a team that maintain somehow consistency? Is secret shopping happening? You want to make sure that, you know the experience for the guests is the same at the peak as it isn’t, you know, in Tampa, what, how does that work?
Yeah, I think the best way to put it is that every melting pot is held accountable to the brand and whole and I think the best way that we can convey that not only to you but future franchisees. You is that we don’t hide secrets, we don’t keep things from other franchisees because like I talked about with the locations and how spread out they are, they’re not competing with each other. So when we’d have franchisee reunions, like we’re about to in two weeks over in Puerto Rico, which should be a great time, oh, yeah, fan, Dallas franchise, those franchisees are happy to see each other, you know, they’re in the same battle, but just in a different territory. So sharing what is working, what isn’t working things that they want to improve on. The balanced scorecard is something that we keep and give to all the franchisees. So there are a number a number of factors that we’re following. I mean, it could be as simple as, you know, sales, it could go into retail numbers, it could go into labor percentages, it goes into online reviews, but what we’re doing is being transparent with our teams, to say, if you see somebody on that list that’s doing great at something, and they’re in the top five of the company column, asked what they’re doing, ask what their secret is, what are they doing, that’s different that you haven’t found out yet. And so to do that, is to create a great, you know, openness amongst the community of franchisees that are working together in order to build sales. And you keep that consistency through the fact that you’re trying to strive to be on that list as the best but I would say we do a really nice job of making sure everyone is informed on on the best way to take on their their store,
best practices, right there. shared strengths, shared information, and a company that really cares about success for each individual unit or location. Yeah, that’s fantastic. Colin, this has been awesome. We learned so much about the brand, you guys are doing so much, right. And there was so many key nuggets that are perfect takeaways, whether you’ve got a single independent location, a small growing regional chain, large Restaurant Group, I think you provided some information that will help everyone out in the industry and really appreciate you being a guest and what you’re doing.
Roger, my pleasure, great to talk to you.
Thanks so much. audience that was the restaurant rockstars podcast. We’ll see you again real soon. Wow, Colin, that was so much valuable information and best practices and all about the dynamic concept called the melting pot and all the things that you do so well, that is just an inspiration to our industry. And there’s so many key nuggets and takeaways for our audience. We covered marketing, we covered company culture, we talked about beverage programs, and, and the unique names behind things and special promotional nights and just creating added value for a guest experience an interactive experience. It’s really about celebration. So thanks for being here. It’s been awesome. Thank you so much to our audience for tuning in. Thanks to the sponsors this week, and we can’t wait until we see you in the next episode.
People go to restaurants for lots of reasons for fun celebration for family for lifestyle. What the customer doesn’t know is the 1000s of details it takes to run a great restaurant. This is a high risk high failed business. It’s hard to find great staff. costs are rising and profits are disappearing. It’s a treacherous road and SMART operators need a professional guide. I’m Roger. I’ve started many highly successful high profit restaurants that I’ve now sold for millions of dollars. I’m passionate about helping other owners and managers not just succeed, but knock it out of the park. I created a game changing system and it’s filled with everything I’ve learned in over 20 years running super profitable, super fun restaurants, everything from creating high profit menu items and cost controls to staff training where your teams serve and sell to marketing hooks, money maximizing tips and efficiencies across your operation. What does this mean to you more money to invest in your restaurant to hire a management team time freedom and peace of mind. You don’t just want to run a restaurant. You want to dominate your competition and create a lasting legacy. Join the academy and I’ll show you how it’s done.
Thanks for listening to the restaurant rockstars podcast for lots of great resources, head over to restaurant rockstars.com See you next time.
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