Breakfast is a hot topic in the fast food world.
“Breakfast is not going to be a top priority in this next three-year period. Longer term we may well come back to that,” Wendy's CEO Emil Brolick said at an investor conference in January . The bottom line is that Wendy's hasn't been able to figure it out.
And yet, the other fast food chains keep plugging away, trying to get their share of morning customers. Even Taco Bell has entered the fray.
But what's so hard about succeeding at breakfast?
Simply put, breakfast is incredibly hard to pull off, said Eric Newman, EVP at "super-regional" chain Bojangles . Fast food chains can't just order some eggs and open earlier. Logistically, there's a lot to think about.
Newman spoke with us about what his company is doing differently to capture the breakfast market. Bojangles, with 542 restaurants in 11 states on the east coast, makes "in excess of 40 percent" of sales in breakfast, he said.
Bojangles is so breakfast-focused that management consciously decides to put its stores on the going-to-work side of the street when picking real estate.
"You're coming down the street and we or someone else is on the other side of the street, separated by a median. There's just no way you're going to stop, make a u-turn, make a left, work your way around, and fight into the drive-thru," said Newman.
Many of Bojangles' competitors are burger chains focused on grabbing the customer once he or she is off of work, so they choose their locations accordingly. That's a big win for Bojangles in the morning, said Newman.
"It's impossible to just move your building to the other side of the street," he noted.
To succeed in breakfast, restaurants also have to be extremely efficient. Customers have to get to work, and don't have time to deal with a slow line. They're less tolerant of breakdowns in service and delays.
"If there's a long line, they have to have the confidence that the long line clicks," said Newman.
There's a managerial aspect to breakfast success as well.
Serving breakfast requires an additional shift, which creates a new level of complexity.
"You've got to add a whole other layer of management," explained Newman. "Someone's got to get there at 4:30 because you're opening at 5:30."
Breakfast poses a big obstacle for the large chains because they've already built major infrastructure around the afternoon and evening rushes. The meal was not a priority as they grew, and now it's more difficult for them to get in the game.
"You've got to try to do everything else without losing market share in other dayparts," said Newman. "When you add those layers it's very hard to do, especially after the fact."
Aside from McDonald's with its unparalleled muscle and brand power, few chains have been able to do that successfully.
Of course, the key is succeeding in every meal category, not just breakfast. Bojangles is doing well for itself at other times of day, too. The chain's opening one new location a week, on average, according to Newman.
But, at its core, it's still a breakfast-first brand.
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