Catering Leadership Profile: Tim Kimmel

Tim Kimmel has seen a lot of changes throughout his 24-year career with Lexington, Ky.-based Fazoli’s. Multiple ownerships, unit growth and even his own transition between field ops and the corporate office have kept his professional pace steady. He has worked in more than two-thirds of the company’s markets and has been a supervisor for three-fourths of system restaurants.

Kimmel, now Fazoli’s director of off-premise sales, is using his experience from both sides of the line to move catering, takeout and delivery in a whole new direction.

1. What did you learn when training for your new position as director of off-premise sales?

When I started the catering director mentorship program with The Catering Institute, I learned that you’re not going to be able to control everything. You’re going to get last minute orders and you may be serving food in unusual locations, such as in a pavilion at the park or in a place that requires security checks. So, I have to make sure the restaurants and employees understand those things and know how to react to those things when they happen. Not every catering order is going to be the same.

The restaurants that are flexible and problem solvers are the ones who are great at catering. The ones that struggle don’t know how to solve for catering issues. So we have to be creative, flexible and up to the challenge.

2. What are the strategic aspects that need to be in place for a successful off-premise program?

It starts with senior management leadership and the fact that they have to make catering and off-premise a priority. That includes getting all of the departments to buy-in and support the vision. What we’re now doing with catering that is different from our past efforts is making sure every department understands the value of catering and what it can do for our organization. Doing this has eliminated some of our hurdles. Everyone has to understand the long-term value and not look at the short term. Everyone has to be on board – from the field operators to the corporate office — if you’re going to do off-premise sales in catering.

3. How have you been able to steer the overall catering strategy?

For me, it has been about making sure everyone understands the changes we’re making as a company to support growth in our catering and off-premise operations. We have done a lot of catering in the past, but we didn’t have the strategic vision or procedures in place to make it a consistent experience. In order to grow our business, we had to change the way we were doing things and find ways to encourage guests to place more orders with us and use us more. If I’m not digging into data on a regular basis, I am losing opportunities for growth. I know what the call center has booked every day by 9 a.m. and every morning I know what we did the day before in overall catering sales. I also know where we are projected to be in catering sales by the end of the month and our operators need to know that as well so that everyone is making the right decisions. You’ve got to be able to react and we react daily. If a company is going to add a position at my level, they need someone who knows what’s going on. This includes knowing how catering orders are booked and what locations are getting those orders. It’s still about relationships and understanding that how we do today will determine if we get the next order.

4. What role does communication play in terms of getting both the store-level employees and franchisees on board with catering?

I work at the corporate office a few days a week and people there always make comments that I’m on the phone all day long. For me, communication is the biggest key to driving this business. You have to share information. We have training sessions with our catering captains and talk with our GM’s and supervisors on a regular basis so everyone knows the impact catering sales have on our operation. Communication is not just me sharing information; it’s also listening to the challenges that the franchisees are having. It’s a two-way relationship and the team knows they can come to us if something isn’t working. We do 150 catering orders on an average day so we’re tested daily in regard to the systems we have in place.

5. How do you see off-premise playing a more active role in Fazoli’s overall sales?

I see it in the industry and I see it at Fazoli’s. Off-premise sales are only going to grow. The question is: Are we going to see the same growth year-over-year or will achieve more than other brands?

We know that not every guest wants to order the same way and we’re looking into all the ways people place their orders so we can be there, whenever and wherever they are. We have to be good at that in order to grow our business. We have to find ways to be successful with all of those things and then with execution once we get that order. It’s not like everyone goes to a restaurant and orders food at the same time. People order at different times for different occasions and we have to be prepared for that. The entire industry does.

6. What are some of the qualities leadership teams need to have to make off-premise sales a success?

The big thing is they need to have the vision and understanding of where the business is going and understand, like every other journey, that it’s not a straight path. You also have to listen to your audience. I have to understand everyone’s needs and challenges and be able to support that in order for catering to be a success. It’s about understanding leadership within the organization, the guest’s journey and what our operators are doing.

If something is not working, leadership teams have to learn how to change things. You may have a great vision, but if the guest doesn’t like it, then something has to change. The other big thing is leadership teams have to make sure they are integrating all of their systems within the organization. As restaurants get more into catering, we need more integration in terms of gathering guest feedback, operating our call center and reviewing sales data. All of those things have to work together. If you work in a silo, you’re going to hurt yourself long term. If everything interacts together, this brings more value to your organization.

7. How can executive teams help franchisees navigate off-premise operations?

A lot of my time spent with franchisees is about getting them to understand what the opportunities are for them and then getting them through the short-term costs for long-term revenue. They need information they can use to grow their business, but if they’re not putting that data into our system, they’re not going to get that information.

There are a lot of things we do today that we didn’t do in the past and there will be things we do in the future that we won’t be ready for. We all just have to be flexible enough to be able to change. The restaurants that are successful have people that can deal with change. There are times that I get frustrated, but as a leader I always have to be thinking about how far can we go. So when working with franchisees, we have to have a sense of urgency to move the catering business forward, but we also have to understand that change may be difficult for some people. We celebrate the victories, but always know there is more work we have to do.

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