Social Tools Give Red Robin a Competitive Edge

Few industries have to cope with changes that occur as fast and furiously as the restaurant business. Keeping up with customer whims—and updating menu items—is a constant struggle.

For Red Robin International, a 44-year-old firm that operates 339 company-owned restaurants and employs approximately 25,000 associates, the quest for a competitive edge has led directly to social business communication and collaboration tools.

“We are very heavily focused on digital transformation,” says CIO Chris Laping. “We recognize that we are positioned within a hypercompetitive marketplace. Social business tools help us drive the changes necessary to support our initiatives and provide a better guest experience. They help us move faster and communicate better.”

In the past, Red Robin relied mostly on emails, printed bulletins and conventional forms of communication to interact with employees. In some cases, information went out via PowerPoint presentations.

To enhance communications with its staff, Red Robin worked with technology integrator Trace3 to develop and deploy a program that drives information sharing, skill building and general awareness. As part of the program, the restaurant chain uses more than 1,700 Apple iPads in restaurants to facilitate social media, interactive games, simulations and videos.

With 87 percent of the company’s workforce falling into the millennial category, a social-centric approach makes sense—and dollars. “The way you reach [these young workers],” Laping says, “is through mobile and social technologies.” In addition, he adds, “These tools dramatically bring down the costs associated with change adoption within the organization. They create a powerful and cost-effective foundation for building a more digital business framework.”

One example of the power of this approach is how Red Robin handles menu changes and enhancements. In the past, the process often took 12 to 18 months and required deep analysis of sales data, focus groups, recipe adjustments, customer feedback and other information before the product could be released for sale.

“Today, we’re able to achieve near real-time feedback from restaurants and engage in a rapid-fire product development process,” Laping reports. This translates into getting a new burger or product into restaurants in as little as four weeks.

At the heart of the Red Robin initiative are two social networks: One called “Yummer” is geared toward managers and corporate team members, and a second dubbed “Yummerversity” serves as the company’s training platform for 22,000 hourly employees. Both provide a space to interact and a more dynamic way to exchange information. The iPads also feature an app called “Food Central,” which enables employees to learn more about newly introduced products and configure them as they would with customers.

Red Robin focuses on technologies and innovations that drive engagement with team members “behind the curtain,” Laping explains. Although Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites provide clues and insights—particularly in regard to customer feedback—the social business space is evolving rapidly.

“Innovation has always revolved around collaboration,” he says. “But we are now seeing an environment that has radically evolved. Enterprise content management, social media, mobility, analytics and more are converging and changing the way a business must operate.”

Photo courtesy of Red Robin.