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Going 'Green’ Appeals to Restaurant Customers’ Tastes

Going 'Green’ Appeals to Restaurant Customers’ Tastes

Paul Damico is the President of Moe’s Southwest Grill, a 426-unit restaurant chain based in Atlanta. Under Damico’s direction, Moe’s has migrated to a new eco-friendly prototype that has resulted in increased sales and lower maintenance costs. Damico tells BusinessNewsDaily how ‘going green’ has been good for business.

BusinessNewsDaily: You made some significant changes to both the appearance and menu at Moe’s, what prompted the change?

Paul Damico: I believe strongly that the success of the brand rests on great people, great food and a great restaurant experience. When I joined the team in May 2008, I wanted to lead improvement in all three areas and the timing was perfect with our tenth anniversary on the horizon. First, we got the right team in place. Concurrently, we began working on improving the prototype to decrease clutter and maintenance, increase speed of service and brighten the look and feel of the restaurant. We also wanted to highlight some of the best parts of our dining experience like our salsa bar featuring five fresh, free salsas and our ‘Welcome to Moe’s’ greeting which is now written out boldly above our service line. Since we began rolling out the prototype, particularly in existing restaurants that have been renovated, we have seen an increase in sales and an increase in crew satisfaction.

We began working on enhancing the menu at about that same time. Our marketing department spent a year testing and perfecting a new menu board, while our Executive Chef  began working on improving our ingredients. Today, we can say that we proudly serve all natural, cage and hormone free, skinless white breast meat chicken; 100 percent sirloin, grass-fed steak with no hormones added; slow cooked pulled pork that is hormone-free, steroid free and grain fed; and organic tofu. All this is part of Moe’s Food Mission which is to bring the highest quality ingredients to every guest , every day, everywhere.

In terms of the actual menu board, research indicated that our guests didn’t like being told “that’s going to be a little extra” as they moved down the line, so we decided to make our sour cream and veggies free with every meal. We also heard that kids love our menu and love participating in the ordering process, so we created a menu board just for kids – right at their eye level.

In addition to our ten-year mark prompting these changes, we also heard feedback from our guests urging us to move in this direction, especially as it relates to our food. When we surveyed our customers, they let us know they were interested in all-natural, healthier ingredients. We have also received guest feedback, Twitter mentions and Facebook suggestions that have led us to believe that our customers want low-cal, vegetarian, gluten-free and more sustainable ingredients.

As we enter into our second decade of business we have a new prototype, a new menu board, a Food Mission, a new creative platform (Feed the Moement); and as a result, a newly energized franchise community ready to take on the next ten years with increased passion and dedication.

BND: Describe to me the “new” eco-friendly customer you are hoping to attract?

P.D.: It seems that the sustainability effort is largely embraced by today’s youth. We think teens; tweens and even kids are not only interested in doing the right thing for the planet, but also urging their friends and families to do the same. Similarly, we have found a passionate audience comprised mostly of moms and young professionals who expect transparency from the restaurants about the quality of the ingredients that they serve. Since we launched our ‘Food Mission’ the response from this group, in particular, has been great. These women can feel positive about the food they eat at Moe’s, and the food they are feeding their children.

As a restaurant with a variety of vegetarian offerings, Moe’s is a proud supporter of the Meatless Monday campaign. We have noticed that our meatless items attract vegetarian and ‘flexitarian’ [people who eat a meat-free diet most of the time] fans alike who want to eat healthier while reducing their carbon footprint.

BND: What trends to you see in the green movement, not just for restaurant owners but for business owners in general?

P.D.: As a restaurant company, our focus has been mainly on the food, but energy efficiency is an area of opportunity as well. Our new prototype features CFL and LED lighting as a first step. We are also testing some different things with our HVAC, hood system and walk-in to be more energy efficient. A minimal upfront cost can not only save in energy consumption, but also money. Similarly, low-flow toilets and spray valves have a minimal cost impact and are more eco-friendly.

BND: What responsibility do restaurants owners have to their customers regarding where and how their food is processed?

P.D.: As a restaurant, it is our responsibility to not only know where our ingredients come from, but also ensure that proper safety and quality assurance procedures are maintained at every step of the process from farm to table.

For example, at Moe’s we have committed to all-natural, cage and hormone free, skinless white breast meat chicken. It takes a lot of work on our end to maintain that specification with our suppliers and the farmers that work with them at a price that works for our system, but it’s important to us as a brand and it’s important to our guests and any vendor that works with our company understands that.

BND: You successfully changed your restaurant to be more environmentally friendly. Do you think others will follow your lead?

P.D.: Absolutely. Sustainability is not a fad; it is here to stay. I think more and more chains are realizing that and as basic economics dictates - increased demand will cause increased supply until finally, greener business practices will become not only more accessible, but more affordable.

BND: Do you think customers purposely select restaurants that support their own values?

P.D.: Most definitely. In a competitive marketplace, when all other factors (environment, price, taste ) are similar, customers will go with the brand they trust and a brand they know cares about doing the right thing.