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Texas BBQ chain's 'crew members will stay in masks' despite state lifting restrictions: CEO

Dickey’s Barbecue Pit's CEO Laura Rea Dickey joined Yahoo FInance Live to break down what Texas lifting its mask mandate means for restaurants.

Video Transcript


SEANA SMITH: Texas Governor Greg Abbott rolling back COVID restrictions, also rolling back the state's mask wide-- or statewide mask mandate. We want to talk more about this with Laura Rea Dickey. She's the CEO of Dickey's Barbecue Pit, which is based in Dallas. Laura, great to have you on the program. Governor Abbott here saying that all businesses throughout the state will be allowed to open 100% by March 10th. So what are your reopening plans?

LAURA REA DICKEY: You know, we're ecstatic to invite guests back into our dining rooms. It's worked for us in Florida. We have over 526 locations in 44 states. And so, we are very excited to add this additional capacity to our 160 Texas locations. As you say, we are a Dallas-based. And you know what? For us, our pit crew members will stay in masks. We'll still have personal protective equipment for our folks that are serving our guests. But we're going to open to capacity, and we're going to follow what the local regulations are. And so we will open to 100%, and guests can come in and dine with us as they're comfortable.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Hats off to you and the hundreds of thousands of men and women who work in restaurants nationwide who've had to manage through this. And congratulations on getting to the other side of it. You just mentioned--


ADAM SHAPIRO: You're welcome-- where your staff will still be wearing masks. How cumbersome is this going to be? You've got the state saying one thing. But I was listening on the radio this morning that perhaps some counties or cities might have different requirements. Is it clear what's really going to happen next week?

LAURA REA DICKEY: No, it is absolutely not clear. However, one thing I can guarantee is we will have great brisket for folks, whether they want to come in, in our dining rooms or whether they still want to get that on dickeys.com. One of the things about being in so many different municipalities is that we've really leaned into that great business principle in our mantra of evolve or fail. We have to be flexible.

And so, this is a situation where our Florida restaurants, the 19 locations we have in the state of Florida, they've been open at capacity since the fall. So we have experience and have a transition plan to get our pit crews ready to see more folks in our dining rooms. But it isn't actually a huge degree of change. For us, it's a difference in degree instead of a difference in kind. So we'll have more folks that will be serving in person.

But we actually haven't seen a decrease in our business in digital sales with the reopening of Florida dining rooms. It's really just been an add to, which is great news for the industry and something everybody is really looking forward to.

SEANA SMITH: You know, that's interesting, Laura, that you mentioned that because I think that was a big question here in the midst of the pandemic as to whether or not we would go completely back to how things were before the pandemic or whether people would continue on some of the behaviors that they have picked up over the last year. When you talk about being able to get to the other side of this, yes, technology did play a role, but how else did you survive? What are some of the other policies or some of the other steps that you have taken that have proven to be very successful?

LAURA REA DICKEY: It's a communication. Absolutely it's about transparency, both with our guests and with our folks inside the restaurant. We started last March a year ago literally, not knowing anything more than anybody else did. But the one thing we knew was, this brand is not going down on my watch. And so we've been around for 80 years, and we'll find a way.

And that really meant, first and foremost, talking to all of our folks and going, here's how we have to adjust. Here's how we'll adjust our menu, how we will react to supply lines shortages, how we will just make sure that we are there for our guests. It might look a little different. And then we've brought the business back. We've added back to full menu and are now adding additional items.

And it's also about guest communication. It was about letting guests know every step of the way how we will serve them, where we'll be available to them, and also really important that they could see what we were doing to prioritize their safety. They could walk in and see all of our policies and our procedures. And they could see that, for example, we had shifted to a let us get that for you policy.

Barbecue, it was buffet style, and you self served. And obviously, in a pandemic, that's not a good policy. And so we got everything for folks. We got their sides. We got their sauce. We got their drinks. We got their free ice cream. We took all those communal touch points immediately out of the restaurant. And that was really important, but--

ADAM SHAPIRO: It's not fair because we're running the video from your website, and we're making millions of people very hungry right now. So--

LAURA REA DICKEY: Well, that's a good thing.

ADAM SHAPIRO: --you just talked about how things changed and how you evolved and cooperated to get through this mess. Let's look a year ahead from now. Will we get the buffets back? Will we get to be-- will waiters and waitresses have to wear masks forever? Or will we go back to what we used to know?

LAURA REA DICKEY: You know, if I had a crystal ball, I would sell it to you. What I do know is that some things are here. And they're here to stay from a change standpoint. I don't think we'll go back to full buffets. I don't think we'll go back to kind of those things that we've learned that you can still have a good restaurant experience. You can still have hospitality. You can still have that community touchpoint that's what's gathering around a table and celebrating great moments. But we'll do that a little differently. I think those habits have forever adjusted.

But I do think you'll see dining rooms back to full capacity. I think you'll see bars reopening again every place. And I think you will have waiters and waitresses, but I think some of them will probably still be in masks up until next year. And I think we'll see where it becomes a personal comfort issue at that point, where it's what are you comfortable. And ultimately, that's what hospitality in the restaurant business is about, is it's about us serving great food safely to folks in the way that they feel comfortable. And that's what really good restaurant business does.

SEANA SMITH: Laura Rea Dickey, CEO of Dickey's Barbecue Pit, thank you so much for taking the time to join us. I think it's safe to say all of us now are starving after watching the video here over the past couple of minutes. But we wish you all the--