In this exclusive Q&A, I talk with Joe Guith, president of McAlister’s Deli, about how the brand has managed to succeed and grow during the pandemic as well as its partnership with Meals on Wheels America to help support seniors around the holidays.
Franchise Chatter (FC): Can you share a little background on McAlister’s Deli for those who might not be familiar with the brand?
Joe Guith (JG): The first McAlister’s Deli was opened in 1989 in Oxford, Mississippi with the mindset of creating a neighborhood restaurant and gathering place for the local community. Fast forward three decades later, we still embrace this mentality and dedication to our local communities.
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When you enter any one of our 470+ McAlister’s Deli locations, you can expect great food like our craveable, handcrafted sandwiches, giant spuds and fresh salads we are known for, as well as our McAlister’s Famous Sweet Tea. Not only has our menu stayed true to our roots, so have our values. Every order at McAlister’s is served with genuine hospitality and we always aim to go a step beyond with a little something extra.
The pandemic has significantly impacted restaurants across the country, but McAlister’s Deli has seen positive brand performance and growth. McAlister’s has seen success with making changes to meet our guests where they are and by providing multiple ways to order and receive their meals. Over the past few months, we have put a greater emphasis on take-out, curbside pick-up, pick-up window and delivery services to provide more flexibility for our guests.
In addition to the operational changes, we have found great success from our full digital transformation that kicked off in February of this year. The timing ended up being a huge asset as we had some pieces in place ahead of COVID. Once the pandemic took hold, we focused on accelerating our digital innovation, including the launch of our new McAlister’s Deli app and rewards program and the roll out of our own delivery channel in addition to curbside.
The McAlister’s app and rewards program continues to give guests flexible options for mealtime such as paying ahead with contactless payment and selecting pick-up method while staying safely in their car. Our rewards program is another key driver for increasing digital transactions. For every purchase made using the new app, McAlister’s Rewards Members earn points that are redeemable for rewards along with other great benefits.
We built our membership to 1M in seven months during COVID and the app also allowed us to scale curbside pickup as a convenient option for our guests from 50 to 350+ locations in just a week. Each of these enhancements has been critical to our success.
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During the pandemic, we also didn’t lose sight of who we are and our dedication to our employees and our guests. We took extra precautions to help make team members and guests feel comfortable, including requiring all crew members to wear cloth face coverings, implementing enhanced cleaning procedures in all locations and directing crew members who are not feeling well to stay home.
The wellbeing and happiness of our guests and team members is essential no matter what the circumstance. And to help keep our guests happy, we continued to provide the food they expect and love with more flexible options for ordering as well as new menu items on a limited time basis.
FC: Can you share the details around the new Warming up the Community campaign with Meals on Wheels?
JG: Last year, we kicked off our partnership with Meals on Wheels America and launched our “Warming up the Community” campaign to help provide meals and companionship for seniors around the holidays. The program was such a great success that we teamed up for the second year with Meals On Wheels America and expanded the effort.
The campaign is extra important this year as in the wake of COVID, food insecurity has been on the rise and seniors have been hit extra hard. Before the pandemic took hold, more than 9.7 million seniors across the country were threatened by hunger and that number has gone up significantly in the past few months according to Meals on Wheels. Our “Warming up the Community” campaign aims to raise funds to help provide warm meals and comfort to seniors around the holidays, now when they need it more than ever.
The Warming up the Community campaign ran from November 1-November 30. We will donate 10 cents for every soup sold, starting with a minimum donation of $100K to Meals on Wheels. Guests could enjoy their favorite soup from our wide menu and know that they were giving back to seniors in local communities around the country.
FC: What other programs do you have in store that our readers might like to know about?
JG: We will continue to offer our guests the McAlister’s they have come to know, expect and love. We will be offering great promotions through the holidays and introducing new menu offerings. For example, starting in November, we introduced our Winter limited time offer menu items which include a Steak & Roasted Peppers Sandwich, White Chicken Chili and we are extending the Cinnabon Cheesecake dessert since it is so popular.
No matter the circumstance, supporting our local communities remains a top priority for McAlister’s and we’ll also continue to explore partnerships like Meals on Wheels to find ways to give back. And to reward our guests for their ongoing support, we offered some great Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals to our rewards members from free menu items to extra points every day throughout the weekend.
FC: If someone is interested in opening their own McAlister’s Deli, where can they find more information?
JG: If someone is interested in joining the award winning McAlister’s Deli family, they can find out more information at www.mcalistersdelifranchising.com.