Hungry Jack’s bets on suburban locations, drive-thru coffee to fuel its race to 700 restaurants

CEO Chris Green elaborates on the chain’s multi-channel approach, reflects on the brand’s 50 years, and next potential opportunities.

Suburban and regional locations will play a key role in Hungry Jack’s race to 700 restaurants in the next five to seven years, partly jolted with an aggressive play to be a bigger player in the drive-thru coffee space.

“That's where the people are,” chief executive officer Chris Green told QSR Media, adding that they plan to “step up” the amount of openings to around 40 to 50 stores annually from their current rate of 20 to 25. The chain, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, stands at 450 stores.

These locations, Green explained, were the beneficiaries after the pandemic made “permanent” changes in CBD areas, which he expects to experience recovery in about two to four years.

“There’s going to have [to have] a correction in rents in CBD locations. Otherwise, people just won't survive,” he said. “If sites come up and rent is on the right level, then we’ll absolutely go in..we won’t shy away.”

Spacing dine-in, delivery and drive-thru transactions
Drive-thru and delivery, which Green credits for the brand’s resilience amidst COVID-19, will also get upgrades.

On the drive-thru front, the brand will look to enhance timings on orders, integrate digital menu boards and integrate dual lanes in locations where possible. 

Drive-thru-only locations are also a possibility, he said, in smaller sites in urban areas “where we cannot fit a standard restaurant.”

“Some of those could be with fuel partners, some of those could be by themselves,” he said.

Another focus for Hungry Jack’s drive-thru experience is their app or digital ordering, in order to take “some of the pressure off” at the usual payment points to get more throughput.

Green admits the business has “probably been a little slow” in scaling delivery, but said they opted for a measured approach.

“We wanted to get the operations right,” he said. “There's no point being on four aggregators, and having the restaurant overwhelmed by the amount of orders that are coming in.”

“With a lot of stores now, we are looking at how we [could] separate the delivery pickup area from the dining pick up area or even the drive-thru area, making sure that we've got space in separating people. There's nothing worse than being at our front counter as a dining customer trying to fight with four delivery drivers that are trying to pick up an order,” he added.

In store, new builds or otherwise, kiosks will also play a role in the chain’s desire to alleviate pressure off the front counters. Work is also being done on the packaging end.

Green also stressed he’s not big on delivery-only locations or dark kitchens, citing the economics of it being “marginal at best.”

Rapid scale of Jack’s Cafe
Hungry Jack’s is also “laser-focused” on immediately scaling its Jack’s Cafe business, with Green confirming they are looking to integrate the coffee concept across 450 stores in a mere two years, making it an immediate rival to established cafe chains.

“We will easily become the second biggest coffee chain in Australia in a very, very short period of time...It’s a big market and it’s one worth going after.”

Green said the ambitious move is also part of the chain’s efforts to get a share of the larger beverage market. So far, they have rolled out the concept to 150 stores. This also meant heavy investment on training, including the reintroduction of classroom-type sessions for staff.

“We've had to throw a lot of resources at it to get it right,” he said. “I know exactly how many beans are supposed to be in a cup, how long the water takes to pour, the temperature of the coffee, the temperature of milk - we're just obsessed about those details.”

Whilst already having an existing portfolio of chicken-based items, Green also teased the business “may do something in the future” within the category but prefers to stay away from the space at the moment. The chain recently launched chicken bites in a test market, he revealed.

Dominance, relevance, being guest-obsessed
Green, who has been with the business for almost two and a half years, also cited founder Jack Cowin’s active involvement in the chain for being able to remain in the industry for five decades.

“One of the big reasons that I came to the business is because of him,” he said. “I lead and run the business, but it's his baby and he cares deeply about it.”

“He is passionate about the product and because of his deep belief in it, he's driven it for 50 years. He's reinvested into the business significantly.”

“He can talk to anybody. He’ll talk to a group of students or to a manager, he’ll speak to a customer, he'll talk to executives and CEOs. His ability to communicate with all levels is incredible and that's kept him very grounded - especially in the restaurants,” he added.

Contemplating his vision for Hungry Jack’s in its next years, Green mentioned three principles: being dominant, staying relevant and being guest-obsessed.

“A lot can happen in 10 years, let alone 50 years, but I'd like to make some huge inroads into that area and potentially be dominant,” he said. “The secret with Hungry Jack's over the last 50 years is that it has always evolved and has always adapted.”

“I don't know what we’d be selling in 50 years, or how we'd be selling it. There's no way anybody could have envisioned 50 years ago [that] plant-based burgers would be in a beef restaurant. What I do know is if you're 100% guest-obsessed and you give customers what they want, you know, they will reward you. There's not many companies that can make a hundred years. But three come to mind for me: Coke, Harley-Davidson, and Ford. They've all had ups and downs, they go through cycles, but they're always focused on the customer,” he concluded.

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