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How Frisch’s Big Boy is Surviving COVID-19

Despite all of the challenges for the industry, the iconic franchise is still recording strong sales numbers.

There isn’t a segment of the franchise industry that’s immune from the impact of COVID-19. To determine how brands are surviving the current crisis, 1851 Franchise sat down with Frisch’s Big Boy’s CEO Jason Vaughn to learn more about the restaurant franchise’s response to the pandemic. Despite all of the challenges the industry is facing, the restaurant brand is fairing well.

“We're actually very pleased with the environment we're in and our sales performance,” said Vaughn. “We developed a very robust off-premise strategy on all four major platforms — GrubHub, DoorDash, Postmates, Uber Eats — and our restaurants have drive-thrus. We have 110 company and franchised restaurants and our average AUVs are $2 million. 35% of our business comes out of the drive-thru, so we're doing well maintaining that and it's actually picked up. Between our drive-thru, third party and carry out options, we're characterizing this environment in a good sales environment.”

Prior to COVID-19, Frisch’s Big Boy recognized the need to be a convenient offering for its customers, which is why it had already implemented a strong strategy to corner the drive-thru, carryout and delivery markets. This foresight has now helped the brand continue to build momentum while dining rooms are closed. 

Since COVID-19 hit, Frisch’s Big Boy has also looked for new ways to help the communities in which its restaurants are located. One example of this is that the brand rolled out free kids’ meals.

“We wanted to show up for the community,” Vaughn said. “My youngest daughter is a school teacher and we have heard some parents have a newfound respect for teachers every day now. With parents having to homeschool or find care, we are here to help everyone get through this and provide a nutritional meal for their children. We don't want people to have to worry about how everyone is going to get fed, which is why we wanted to give back to help people who are managing through their daily lives during this time.”

In addition to the free kids’ meals, Frisch’s Big Boy also launched the Big Boy Market to provide the communities in which they live and serve with necessary grocery and living items. Vaughn notes that Big Boy was the first brand in the country to do this. 

“On March 17, we became a convenience store through delivery and drive-thrus,” Vaughn said. “We started selling toilet paper, bread, eggs and milk and put it on our third party delivery platform, and it did very well. We’ve continued to see strong sales by helping people secure the daily items they need. We took a very low margin; we weren't looking to be highly profitable, but instead asked ourselves, ‘How do we help?’” 

By offering essential items through third party delivery or drive-thru service, Frisch’s Big Boy created a system in which parents could get things they needed without getting out of their car or leaving their home. Big Boy Market has been so successful that the brand is now preparing to launch its 2.0 platform with beauty aid like shampoo, deodorant and soaps. 

“We noticed after we introduced Big Boy Market, a lot of other companies started to launch similar initiatives, so we’re flattered and we’re glad — we’ve received positive feedback on social, so we’re happy that this appreciation will continue. We might have found a new way of life. We don't plan on stopping this when it's all over. The market will dictate when it ends and we want to be a resource for our guests during this time,” Vaughn said.

During this time, Frisch’s Big Boy has also donated several thousand gloves to hospitals and nursing homes, and it’s getting ready to donate masks as well. And when it comes to helping franchisees, Frisch’s Big Boy has focused on supporting its system to the best of its ability.

“We've worked with each of our franchisees, and we've talked to them personally,” Vaughn said. “We ask how they’re doing and if there’s any additional support they need in any form or fashion. We’ve looked at relief on royalties, marketing, deferring payments or whatever they need to help them get through this. We’ve been an open book. The franchise community has done terrific through this and stayed in close communication to make sure businesses remain healthy on the other side.”

Vaughn notes that while the first couple of weeks following the rapid spread of COVID-19 were focused on taking control of the challenges at hand, the focus is now on the future. The brand has added plexiglass inside its dining rooms as well as its drive-thrus to add a layer between employees and customers. The brand has also been taking tables and chairs out to allow for social distancing inside dining rooms when they’re able to reopen. But the biggest change, he notes, is looking at revolutionizing the traditional restaurant model. Vaughn said Frisch’s Big Boy is looking at more of a fast-casual model to ensure that despite the fact that things are changing, the brand can remain relevant.