Marco Street grew up in the restaurant industry, and his family had long talked about opening up a restaurant focusing on quality fried chicken dishes.
“We really wanted to glorify the diversity that chicken can bring as an entree meal,” Street says. “It all started just as a family tasting recipes, going and eating chicken everywhere we could, testing with different cooking methods: fryers, oils, different ways to roast and cook over the fire.”
The original plan was to open a fast-casual restaurant in Dallas, but when a special location became available–the same location where Street’s father had opened his first restaurant in the 1960s–the family pivoted to make their concept fit a full-service model.
The full-service Street’s Fine Chicken opened in 2016, but it wasn’t long before the original plan also came to fruition. Shortly thereafter, the family also opened a fast-casual version.
While the restaurants have the same concept and founding principles of responsible sourcing and chicken raised humanely locally in Texas, executing day-to-day operations varies depending on location. To give us a peek into his process, Street dished about the logistical differences between his fast-casual and full-service restaurants, and how they can each help the other become more efficient and profitable.
“Menu-wise, it was really important for us going from full-service to fast-casual that we were still able to serve the exact same quality of food, and maintain the same standards and the same elegance and everything that we do in the full-service format,” Street says.
But because fast-casual customers expect a faster pace and lower price points, some changes had to be made. For one, the full-service restaurant offers some non-chicken items and specials, plus a full bar to serve up craft cocktails.
“The most obvious difference is the full bar,” Street says. “In the fast-casual setting, it’s not as important, it’s not as big a part of your business because you don’t have as much opportunity for repeat drinks; it’s a faster-paced environment. Alcohol is just less of a component for counter service.”
While menu items themselves are similar, some dishes have been reconfigured in the transition from full-service to fast-casual to provide more value and flexibility to customers.
“Obviously, there’s a price point battle you have when you’re trying to take a full-service version of your concept and turn it into a counter-service. There’s only so much people are going to be willing to pay and justify without having the experience you can get with full-service,” Street says. “For instance, some of our items, we don’t sell as meals; we sell à la carte so that the customer has more power in deciding how they’re going to spend their money.”
Some portions, like the salads, are scaled back to lower price points in the fast-casual restaurant, as well as decrease the amount of time it takes to whip up in the kitchen. The fried chicken, for example, is offered in meals at the full-service restaurant, and by-the-piece for fast-casual.
“If they want to go just like they have it at the other store, they wind up paying more than you would at a normal counter-service restaurant, but it’s also very easy for the customer to come in and get exactly what they want for a price that they can afford,” Street says. “If you want to break the bank, you can break the bank, but it’s very easy to get very good value for the food that you’re getting.”
While many dishes are similar, they’re presented differently to customers in each restaurant. The fast-casual restaurant utilizes digital signage and digital menus to help each guest make an informed decision about what they’re ordering.
“In full-service, you have a server to walk you through every piece of the menu and they put the image in your mind’s eye through conversation there in that format,” Street says. “In fast-casual, there’s more pressure on the customer, especially in a high-volume store when there’s a line of people out the door. People want to order and get their food and move on, so photography is really big. It’s something that’s very important for our menu. … Digital signage is huge for fast-casual and it’s been very important to driving our business.”
The hiring process for back-of-house employees ends up being similar for both restaurants, Street says, but the front-of-house hires are a different story. The fast-casual restaurant requires cashiers, food expediters, food runners, and employees manning the to-go orders, while the full-service restaurant needs servers, hosts and bartenders.
“It’s a completely different animal in terms of managing a shift and managing that staff,” he says. “In the fast-casual, it’s a much younger crew in the front. It’s a much faster pace, so it requires a different set of skills. It’s more about efficiency, and 100 percent of the restaurant is on display. We have an open kitchen and the counter sits in front of it, so they have to be professional at all times. They need to be very, very efficient because we serve twice as many people in the same hour than we do in the full-service.”
Street says it has been less expensive to operate fast-casual staffing.
“We can do more business with fewer people and still give people the Street’s Fine Chicken experience. It’s really made us see what we’re made of, to have to work twice as hard, twice as fast for less money per customer,” he says. “It really puts the stress test on every aspect of the operation, so there’s been a lot of things that we’ve learned through opening the fast-casual that we’ve now been able to take over to full-service and improve efficiency over there. … We have now come full circle and turned around, helping the full-service version be even better.”