The Legendary restaurant chain has reconnected with a nostalgic public and has shown the world that by returning to its roots, it can not only return to relevance but also lead the casual dining segment. With nearly 100 domestic and international restaurants and counting today, Bennigan’s is thriving with the implementation of new initiatives that have affected a dramatic impact on restaurant sales and profits.
In “Bennigan’s Return to Relevance…Bleeding Green 25/8,” CEO and President, Paul Mangiamele serves up some of his brand’s Irish Hospitality and inspiration in telling the story of this remarkable brand renaissance. RestaurantNews.com recently sat down with him for details.
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Q: What made you want to share the Bennigan’s story through this book?
Writing this book was an opportunity to pay tribute to the tenacious family of franchisees, supplier partners and corporate support team whose fierce dedication and determination restored Bennigan’s to relevance and initiated a casual dining revolution. Quite simply, we would not be here today if it were not for the franchisees and new investors that stuck by the company when there was no “company” to support them.
Q: When you joined Bennigan’s in 2011, the company had a lot to overcome. Where did this turnaround start?
We brought the focus back to where it belongs – on the people, the food and the experience. Everywhere I go, people like to tell me about “their” Bennigan’s and “their” stories about what our brand has meant to them. Bennigan’s has always been a neighborhood favorite – not just for food and drinks, but as a place to meet friends and kick back for a while. That spirit lives on in everything we do, every single day. It’s the way Bennigan’s was created, and it’s the way our entire team operates today. A return to our roots was about our return to rebuilding the strong emotional connection that exists with our guests around the world. The first thing we had to do was take an extensive “deep dive” into all our business disciplines and look at every piece of the business from operations, design and marketing to franchisee profiles, real estate and supply chain logistics, etc. No business function was left out of the equation. Once we knew where we were, we could put the right teams, goals, initiatives, strategies and tactics together to redefine the “New” Bennigan’s.
Q: How did you implement your new mission and plan across the entire Bennigan’s system?
After we spent those six months reviewing every aspect of our business, we had the clear vision, mission and purpose necessary to create a Legendary brand experience for every guest, every meal, every day. Having a clearly defined mission is such an important part of bringing all constituents together and working toward the same goal. In fact, I believe that when our disciplined teams work 25/8 and are so passionate that they ‘Bleed Green’ all for the love of Bennigan’s, it’s virtually impossible to set any bounds to the possibilities of what we can achieve. Once we combined our new sales-generating initiatives and coupled it with our refined franchise model that has 37 years of development, there was no stopping us. Make no mistake; Bennigan’s is not only a brand on the move, we are redefining the casual dining paradigm.
Q: Tell us what other changes Bennigan’s has made to differentiate itself from a sea of sameness.
We have shown our hard-working franchisees and prospective franchisees that we can respect Bennigan’s legacy while introducing new initiatives that are changing the game. Over the past two and a half years, we have introduced a new prototype, flexible design options, a new chef-driven food menu, a new bar menu and fun experience, new training methodologies and new marketing initiatives. We’ve built on the popularity of St. Patrick’s Day by expanding it into an attitude that we exude every day in all of our restaurants. These initiatives are driving unit level profitability and delivering results, which in turn are fueling our continued growth and development.
Q: What else do you want our readers to know about your book?
If I boil it down to one thought, it’s that in the service and retail space, it was, is and always will be about the people. That’s one reason why it’s also important to look for ways to give back, stand on a strong cultural platform and why proceeds from this book will benefit “Operation Enduring Opportunity,” a program developed by the International Franchise Association. The goal is to put 75,000 veterans and military spouses and 5,000 wounded warriors to work by 2014. The program focuses on hiring veterans as team members and recruiting them as franchise business owners.
Our restaurant teams are excited about another way to give back while honoring our military – it’s called Bennigan’s Wall of Heroes. Now through September 8th, our guests are invited to purchase a drink in honor of anyone that is currently serving or has served in the U.S. Armed Forces. They are then asked to write a message on a Wall of Heroes notecard supplied by their server, take a photo of the drink and the message, hashtag the photo with #WallofHeroes and upload it to Twitter or Instagram. For every #WallofHeroes photo uploaded, Bennigan’s will donate $1.00 to the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes, a leading not-for-profit organization dedicated to rebuilding the lives of severely wounded veterans that put their lives on the line to protect our freedoms.
Q: What’s next for the brand?
Since the introduction of our key initiatives, we have seen compelling returns on investment and strong unit level profit growth. Our new prototype, new menu, new specialty drinks, new training and a new attitude all add up to explosive growth both domestically and internationally. Thirteen new restaurants have already opened, and there are agreements to develop over 30 to 40 new restaurants in the next few years in New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Texas, Arkansas, Minnesota, Florida, Virginia, Tennessee and Michigan. International openings are slated for the UAE, Mexico, El Salvador, Panama, Cyprus and Korea.
Through the strength of our investors, operator partners and the help of our supplier partners, we are in a leadership position and are well on our way to reshaping the casual dining paradigm.
And, as if that wasn’t enough, we are getting ready to reintroduce another iconic brand, Steak and Ale. So hold onto your seats and buckle your seat belts, it’s going to be a fun and exciting ride!
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