Betty's Burgers sees an edge in the premium burger space with nostalgic elements, positive work culture

Managing Director Troy McDonagh tells QSR Media they eye up to 150 stores in Australia.

With 25 restaurants since debuting Queensland in 2014, Betty’s Burgers wants to make a case for another premium burger offer in the country.

In 2019, the Retail Zoo-owned brand managed to open an average of one restaurant every six weeks, towards of goal of up to 150 stores in Australia.

Leading the charge is managing director Troy McDonagh, who elaborated on Betty's national growth strategy, how he views the brand's differentiators, and when they intend to enter other markets.

QSR Media: Please tell us more about Betty’s Burgers & Concrete Co.
Betty’s started from very humble beginnings. The first restaurant opened in Queensland and that was born out of the need to provide the community a simple, affordable concept and that’s where the beach shack burger concept was born. Its growing since 2014 and we’re very pleased to have opened our 25th restaurant recently in another iconic seaside location in Byron Bay.

[In] a brand’s early days, the tricky part is to grow the business sustainably. So to get to 25 is I think a great response from the Australian public. The brand, product, position that we’ve got seem to be really well-received. To think back to Noosa in 2014 and to where we are today, it’s fantastic to see where we’ve got to.

What makes Betty’s different from all the other brands in Australia today?
I put it down to three key ingredients: people, product, and place. Firstly, in terms of our place, what we tried to do is bring that Noosa beach shack vibe. There’s a nostalgic sentiment that transforms you when you’re on holidays, whether it be sunny Gold Coast or Noosa or Byron Bay. So, we tried to bring those nostalgic elements into our restaurants and our design. There’s a cruise-y, vibe-y feeling that we try to create in all touch points within the brand.

Number two, without a doubt, is our people. In Australia today, service standards are very varied. What we tried to do at Betty’s is create a genuineness to our approach to hospitality. So, the teams that we hire and the people that work within the brand have to capture the essence of what we’re trying to do. It’s almost a resort-style feel and you’ve got a team of people that are really capturing that vibe and energy.

The third one is our product. We really try to keep the product simple and fresh. We strive for high quality; where possible, we produce the products in-restaurant so there’s a real artisan, unique, handcrafted approach to our burgers, fries, and shakes. I think those three things really resonated with our guests.

What are challenges are you currently facing as you scale and grow the business?
Our main challenge at the moment is to make sure that every restaurant we open and every team member we bring into the business understands the power of that guest experience. We don’t settle if a restaurant is not meeting that standard. It’s clearly called out if things aren’t to that level.

What’s the future for Betty’s?
The last year has been an amazing one. We’ve opened 11 restaurants since December last year so we’re averaging around a restaurant every 6 weeks and that, in its own right, has been a challenge. We believe there’s an absolute space in the Australian market for another premium burger offer and we feel that the Australian community is asking that of us so we’re going to continue into the next 2-3 years with an expansion in Australia primarily.

We’re currently investing deeply into the East Coast of Australia but at some point the demand to go West is there so we will be there probably in the next 12 months. We are operating in a company environment so all our restaurants are owned and operated by ourselves so we’ll continue that path. There’s also a demand internationally, particularly in the Asian markets at the moment. What we’re trying to do is make sure that our Australian growth strategy is clear and we continue on our path to probably 100 to 150 restaurants here in Australia.

At some point in time, no doubt, there will be an opportunity for us to partner overseas. One of our core focuses is sustainable growth. You can grow for growth’s sake but we believe at Betty’s that we have to open great restaurants that are in the best possible locations where our guests are demanding us to be.

What’s your core focus as managing director?
I believe in the power of people so I genuinely believe that we are in a people business making burgers, shakes, and fries. We’re not in a burgers, shakes, and fries business serving people. So my main focus is to ensure that the 1,500 to 2,000 team members and all our management and support teams truly believe in the power of culture, our values, and how we behave along the way because I think what we have at Betty’s is an environment where people feel very empowered and I want to continue to ensure that happens.

So my focus is all around people and I believe that if you have a really positive culture in a brand like this, if you have people that feel empowered, trusted, and valued, the financial results typically will take care of themselves. We just opened 25 restaurants and every single restaurant is delivering the financial metrics that we’re looking for. But I believe it’s driven because we have a culture of positivity and we have a belief system in our values. People come to Betty’s everyday believing in what we’re doing and wanting to deliver that exceptional guest service that we do.

How do you measure success?
It’s hard to put a number on that but if you walk into a restaurant, you can almost feel an energy about a hospitality business that’s hard to put a financial measure on. Of course we’ve got the normal measures that we commit to around our financials, but we want to make sure that the energy and vibe and magic is alive and well in our restaurant.

I think culture measures are important. We do check that on a regular basis. We get feedback from our team, there’s always an open dialogue, and they’re just as important measures and little pulse checks as are the financial metrics. And if you combine those two together I think we’re gonna have a very successful business.

Are you concerned about what's happening in retail?
I’ve been in retail for a long time and those conversations are always going to be had. What I believe in is that there will always be a place for competition but we have to be true and focused on what we do. What I say to my team is, ‘Let’s worry about what we do, let’s focus on that guest experience, let’s ensure that what we’re doing is meeting the mark.’

We can’t influence whatever’s happening in the industry. We’re playing in that space but I think the reason we got to 25 restaurants is because our design, product quality, and our commitment to people are helping us succeed in retail. We want to be a shining example of what you can do. Rather than look at the doom and gloom of retail, we think about the positivity of what we can contribute in that category.

What do you personally bring to the business?
I think I like to bring some positivity to the business. I pride myself on being an optimist and someone that works hard at creating a culture within the business. I like our leadership team to make calm, cool, rational decisions and collaborate in our decision making. I like to think I have a united, one-team approach because when you’ve got an expansion across multiple states, sometimes that can become a bit fragmented and communication is hard.

There are strengths I can bring around the leadership front such as running a business, maintaining the standards and setting the benchmark. But at the end of the day I’m only as good as the team that works in this business and they’re the superstars.

Watch the interview below:

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