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How Church’s Chicken Pivoted to a Successful Remote OER Program

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Church’s Chicken has always been known for its fried chicken. Now it’s gaining a name for its use of technology as well.

When the coronavirus hit, Church’s Chicken, like its foodservice counterparts, had to pivot to keep its operations running efficiently and safety. When the Atlanta-based company reimagined its restaurant-level brand standards measurement program to comply with COVID-19 travel restrictions, the goal was simple — make sure restaurants keep a high level of quality and service, without in-person visits from regional management and field teams.

In just 60 days, the global operations, OPS services team transformed the five-plus hour in-person operation excellence review (OER) into a streamlined OER visitation that can now be implemented remotely, which also operates Texas Chicken and Church’s Texas Chicken. This enhanced evaluation of a restaurant’s operation provides operators a detailed action plan with specific recommendations on improving brand standards, according to the company.

Since these virtual OERs are much shorter than the standard visit, the brand can now conduct more visits more frequently, allowing the operations team in the domestic and international business to provide added support for their franchisees. 

“COVID-19 has caused us to innovate in so many ways,” said Brendan Berg, senior vice president of global operations for Church’s Chicken. “We realized that we can’t send our field teams to the restaurants like we’ve done for years — we had to figure out how to conduct our visits remotely. These virtual visitations allow the field team to measure the operations using our proprietary mobile app called the restaurant visitation tool.”

Church’s Chicken worked with its vendor, Nextx, to develop mobile app enhancements that allow its OPS excellence coaches to provide real time reinforcement and redirection to its managers and other restaurant leaders.

“This is all done remotely, so we’re not having to travel,” Berg added. “These remote OERs equal success for our franchisees, for restaurants and for the entire Church’s brand.”

In contrast to half-day in-person visits, the new remote OER takes less than 90 minutes. The technology links the Church’s and Texas Chicken field teams to not only the restaurant manager and market leader in the restaurant, but multiple people such as the director of operations or the franchisees can join the visit remotely. This allows everyone to see what’s happening in the restaurant, calibrate on any current business needs and collaboratively develop a go-forward action plan.

“The OER Program was designed to help our restaurants be the very best they can be, but that’s relied on people traveling to the restaurant, conducting a thorough review and then creating a customized continuous improvement action plan,” explained Luis de la Torre, director of ops excellence at Church’s Chicken. “We’ve had travel restrictions in place since March, and it will probably be another six months before the team can travel again. That’s too long not to have visibility into the daily operations of our restaurants. The remote OER allows us to see how we’re delivering the total guest experience today and quickly make improvements today to positively impact the business tomorrow.”

Church’s and Texas Chicken Restaurant Managers provide their progress made on the remote OER continuous improvement plan inside a dedicated tablet called the OPS 360, which supports daily restaurant routines and simplifies access to information. Managers and team members access brand-approved reporting websites, job aids, videos and use the tool used to submit photos and comments when action items from the remote OER have been completed.

“What’s important to note is that with the advancements we’ve made in restaurant-level technology, information and data can be can be accessed at a moment’s notice and allows a peak into how the restaurant is implementing [its] action plan,” added de la Torre. “That kind of real-time intel lets us pivot quickly and capitalize on growth and guest satisfaction like never before.”  

Berg pointed out that the new remote OER will not replace in-person visits. When public health conditions are appropriate, Church’s will return to traditional OERs, but will do so in a hybrid manner using the brand’s breadth of technology and cloud-based resources as an expanded part of its repertoire of support.

“The early response to the evolution of the OER process has been overwhelmingly positive,” Berg noted. “When operators, franchisees, and team members saw how helpful and easy the remote OER was, they were excited and motivated to put the findings it into action. We’re strengthening communications, building trust and reinforcing the delivery of the total guest experience with every remote OER. This is the kind of support our franchisees are asking for, and we’re happy to help provide a solid foundation from which everyone can build success.”

Founded in 1952, Church’s Chicken has more than 1,500 locations in 25 countries and system-wide sales of more than $1 billion.

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