Marketing executive reveals details of iconic brand’s 50th anniversary refresh
Recently, on a long road trip, I stopped at a familiar restaurant for breakfast that I recall from my youth — Huddle House. The restaurant had a new, updated look, revamped menu, and I thoroughly enjoyed a Smokehouse Platter. I reached out to CMO Alison Delaney to learn more about the iconic brand and its updated look and feel.
Tell me something about Huddle House for someone unfamiliar with the brand.
Huddle House is a comfortable, local place for everyday people who want homestyle food. Our menu is Southern-inspired. We excel in breakfast foods, and are that place where you can get an indulgent, hearty breakfast any time of the day or night, but in addition you can also get burgers, sandwiches and homestyle dinners, also at any time. We like to say “Any Meal. Any Time.” But what really makes us different, and we think exceptional, is that we have become part of the local community. Our wait staff knows our guests’ names and greets them when they walk in the door. We know how they want their eggs and how they take their coffee. And our guests know each other. Huddle House is really the local gathering place in the communities they serve.
Huddle House just celebrated its 50th anniversary. What was that like?
We just wrapped up our 50th anniversary year, and it was incredible. We had an exceptional year, growing our sales, guest count and margins, over which we celebrated with our franchise partners. It was not only an outstanding benchmark for the legacy of our chain, but also a year-long celebration that has propelled us forward. We are not the new, shiny penny, but we hold a special place in the communities we serve, and we’re proud of that.
What trends or changes are you seeing in the ‘diner’ segment?
We’ve talked to many people in the family-dining category, and what we’ve found is that the concept of a “diner” varies considerably across groups of people. For some it means burgers, melts, fries and shakes. For others, it has less to do with food and more to do with design and architecture — for example, counter seating, an open cook line and stainless steel fixtures. I think “diner,” though, has always meant “come as you are:” relax and re-fuel over simple, honest, but great food. Nothing too fancy. Combining somewhat familiar ingredients in interesting and innovative ways to create a different dining experience that doesn’t fall too far outside the comfort zone…that’s the Southern diner experience we are providing.
Huddle House is seeing success from remodeling efforts. What can you share about that?
I’ve participated in many remodeling efforts with various brands over the years, and I can honestly say that the sales lift we’re getting is truly phenomenal. We are three years into our remodeling effort and have lots of data. Not only do our remodeled restaurants experience a tremendous surge once they re-open, we hold on to those increases throughout the first year and into the years beyond. In other words, for the most part, we don’t give back the initial sales generated based on the tremendous interest in the refurbished facility. The remodels also re-energize the staff. They are proud of where they work, and that is reflected in how they take care of the guest.
What kind of marketing synergies within the company exist? Which departments do you work closely with and why?
I’ll stick with the 50th anniversary as a perfect example of the kind of dynamic team we have at Huddle House. A restaurant chain might look at the occasion as a way to call out a special offer to guests. We took a comprehensive view of how this landmark achievement could open the door to engage guests, attract franchise owners, upgrade facilities, build employee pride and so much more. Huddle House had a systemwide approach to deliver that tremendous and sustaining surge I talked about with our guests and deliver it to all aspects of the business. That means working closely with operations, training, franchise development and many others.
What has been Huddle House’s most successful LTO recently?
We have several fan favorites that we’ve brought back over the last couple of years, and the interest and demand just keeps growing. One is our Stuffed Hash Browns LTO. Picture this: a combination of sizzling smokehouse bacon, country sausage, eggs prepared just the way you like them and American cheese, stuffed between two layers of crispy, golden hash browns, then ladled with country sausage gravy. We have several other varieties, and they’ve become so popular that we’re moving this to our core menu in a short while.
Other successful LTOs have been our Prime Rib Tips, served in a variety of different ways, including a dinner, a hearty sandwich, an omelet and even as the “stuffing” in our Stuffed Hash Browns. I think it’s that sense of affordable splurging that makes this item so popular.
How has the “Any Meal. Any Time.” tagline resonated with guests?
While we’re known for breakfast, what sets us apart from some of our competitors is that we have far greater variety in more traditional lunch and dinner items. And if you want a burger at 7 a.m., you got it. We truly are ready to prepare for you anything we offer, whether it’s a breakfast, lunch or dinner type of item, at any time of the day or night. You’ll get it freshly prepared, no matter when you order it.
What is your best marketing advice to share with a young restaurant company starting to grow?
Don’t try to be all things to all people. Stick with who brought you to the dance and be the very best at what you do.
“Seek first to understand…then to be understood.” – Stephen Covey
Hard to follow, but never were more true words said.
You have seen same-store sales increases in 2014, and continue. To what do you attribute that growth?
- Vastly improved execution at the store level, which has been validated by both internal tracking and independent outside consumer polls;
- An optimization of our media and messaging, anchored by strong LTOs;
- Overall improvement in the economy and resulting increased disposable income among our target guests.
By Clay Dover
Published in Nation's Restaurant News