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Labor Pains, Data, and More Hot Topics at Fast Casual Executive Summit

Oct 15, 2021
min read
Written by
This article outlines:
The most buzzed-about topics discussed during the Fast Casual Executive Summit
The impact that these trends will have on the restaurant industry moving forward
Which events Team Wisely will attend next

t the Fast Casual Executive Summit earlier this month, our team had the opportunity to speak directly with a variety of limited-service restaurant brands about the most pressing issues facing the industry today. We’ve compiled a shortlist of common pain points and trends that are top-of-mind for restaurant brands and will play an important role in the coming year.

1. Navigating the Restaurant Labor Shortage

It should come as no surprise that the restaurant labor shortage was one of the most buzzed-about topics of conversation at the event. What might surprise you is that many brands view current team member retention as paramount to survival and growth.

Several brands noted that prioritizing the happiness of current team members—including showing appreciation and offering meaningful incentives—is just as important, if not more so, than attracting new hires.

As for recruitment, many restaurant marketing teams are pivoting from advertising to consumers to supporting HR’s efforts to find and attract job-seekers on social media and beyond.

Additionally, restaurant brands are turning to technology to stay resilient as the labor shortage persists and emerge even stronger.

2. Virtual Brands and Host Kitchens

Some limited-service brands are thinking creatively about how to leverage their unused kitchen space, including partnering with virtual brands and acting as host kitchens, to generate extra revenue. In other words, preparing another brand’s food with support from third-party delivery.

The combination of spare capacity, market uncertainty, and new tech adoption, has enabled brands to experiment with their existing infrastructure and grow operations—without requiring much additional capital investment, labor, or rent.

But with high competition and the potential risk of impeding upon the restaurant’s main operations, only time will tell how successful these partnerships will be long-term.

3. How to Collect, Analyze, and Act on Data

Limited-service brands of all sizes are starting to recognize the importance of collecting, analyzing, and acting on restaurant data to personalize the guest experience, unlock customer lifetime value, inform business decisions across departments, and ultimately drive profit.

This idea was central to the panel discussion led by Wisely Cofounder and CEO Mike Vichich, entitled “Why Restaurants Are Ditching the Transaction Mindset To Focus On Customers.” Each of the panelists, including Vince Szwajkowski (CMO of Blaze Pizza), Sergio Perez (Sr. Director of Omnichannel at Bojangles), Todd Madlener (President and COO of Coolgreens), and Aaron Noveshen (CEO of Starbird, Founder and Chairman of The Culinary Edge), shared how their brand is leveraging data to understand and better serve their guests, as well as acquire new customers.

Given that many restaurant brands are only just beginning to build their tech stack, there was a lot of discussion at the event about the importance of first-party data, a restaurant-specific CRM, and tech solutions that seamlessly integrate with existing systems.

Wisely Panel at Fast Casual Executive Summit
Mike Vichich, Wisely Cofounder & CEO, speaks with panelists Sergio Perez (Bojangles) and Vince Szwajkowski (Blaze Pizza).

4. Going Beyond Loyalty with a Customer Data Platform (CDP)

While many restaurants have a loyalty program in place, forward-thinking brands, particularly those in growth mode, are turning to a customer data platform (CDP) to access and act on data from 100% of their customers—not just the 10-15% that signed up for rewards. The kicker is: They’re realizing that they need a CDP built specifically for restaurants to do that.

With a restaurant CDP, limited-service brands can collect on-premise and off-premise customer data—including anonymous transactions—from dozens of sources (loyalty, reservations, online orders, payment processor, feedback, and more) to create a single view of each guest, and then pipe that data to all the end-platforms that power business decisions and growth.

In essence, it’s the key to unlocking customer lifetime value: the new north star metric for the restaurant industry.

5. How to Get Customer Feedback and Make it Actionable

These days, restaurant reviews are everywhere on the Internet: Google, social media, blogs, and so on. It’s a blessing and a curse for restaurants brands that need to manage their reputation, keep guests coming back, and attract new customers.

From our conversations at FCES, it’s clear that limited-service restaurant brands are trying to figure out how to effectively collect, manage, and act on all of this valuable customer feedback. Not to mention, determine which feedback matters most (i.e. a guest with high CLV vs. a one-time visitor) and respond accordingly.

To solve these pain points, many brands will begin leveraging tools like sentiment analysis—which enables them to view feedback from multiple sources, identify trends, and respond directly to reviews from a single dashboard—and automated surveys (SMS or email) that proactively solicit input from guests.

What’s on the Horizon

The future of the restaurant industry will largely be defined by how brands collect, analyze, and act on data. Those that build a fully integrated tech stack and prioritize customers over transactions, will have a competitive advantage, foster long-term loyalty, and drive profit.

Team Wisely is looking forward to discussing all of these topics and more at Restaurant Finance & Development Conference (Nov. 8-10), Food on Demand Conference (Nov. 10-12), and the Restaurant Leadership Conference (Dec. 6-9). Want to catch up with us at these events? Drop us a line at