According to Ryan Rooney, creative director, the company’s nine locations took a severe hit when the COVID-19 crisis began and as sales plummeted, it forced the layoff of some employees.
“At the very beginning, we were pretty much like everybody else,” Rooney said. “Initially we took a big hit, and with the news we had, the information we had, we didn’t know when the end was going to be.”
David’s Burgers quickly rebounded and within just three weeks, everyone had been called back to work. Today, the stores are all at or near 100 percent of normal sales, some even pacing ahead of last year (Rooney declined to say by how much). This isn’t hard to believe, given the long lines of cars that ring most of the restaurants during peak times.
“We’re actually doing very well, and that’s why we were able to bring everybody back,” he said.
Asked to explain David’s Burgers success during this time, Rooney said it starts with the food, but doesn’t end there. He said owner Alan Bubbus’ reputation for being present and visible in the restaurants simultaneously inspires top-notch customer service while developing a particular brand of customer loyalty.
“Alan is very personable. One job he has is getting to know his guests that come through there and to sit there with them for a little bit and tell them stories,” he said. “He just wants to brighten people’s days. It’s something that is part of his mission.
“But it also focuses on our staff. A lot of times, this is their first time to work someplace. Alan wants to instill some work ethic into them and give them some joy in their work. There’s not much joy if you’re just sitting there flipping burgers or cutting fries, but when you get involved with guests, and you have license to get up and talk to people and find out what’s going on in their lives, it really brightens their day. It helps our staff, and it helps our customers. That interaction is really the secret.”
Given this spirited environment, operational adjustments have been handled with relative ease. Most of the locations already had drive-through windows, so takeout orders were nothing new. Rooney said the biggest issue was mapping out traffic management as diners who would otherwise come into the dining room now joined the takeout queue.
“We added a makeshift drive-through in North Little Rock because we don’t have a drive-through window there,” Rooney said. “Our staff put that together very quickly. We just put some cones out there, and we were able to take a register out there and gave them a tent.
“[Elsewhere] we’ve had to do a few things, but really, they’ve been small adjustments. We love to use our drive-through services. We love to have people inside for that interaction, too, but we like to have our smiles at our drive-throughs.”
The addition of staff masks (gloves were already standard equipment, pre-COVID-19) and Bite Squad delivery services were the most pronounced changes, Rooney said. All in all, not bad problems to have.
“So far, Bite Squad has been valuable to us. They’ve been really good,” he said. “We’ve also used this opportunity. Since our dining rooms are shut down, we’ve gone into all our stores, and we’re brightening them up. We’re stripping all of our floors back and putting up fresh paint.
“During these types of things what we try to do is, we look at opportunities. We don’t really see them as problems. We see them as opportunities, and how are we going to make it work? When you look at it that way the answers come very clearly.”