Stewart Newbold on Becoming a Restaurant Turnaround Expert and Business Development Strategist

Ignite Expert

Ignite Expert

Operating a restaurant during a public health crisis isn’t easy. But it’s not impossible. Still, achieving goals and shifting priorities amid a pandemic is a first for Stewart Newbold, a nearly 30-year industry expert. 

Stewart has worked with industry leaders to turn restaurants into thriving, multi-site brands. During this time, he’s opened 63 restaurants throughout the United States. According to Stewart, “With each company that I’ve had the opportunity to lead, three results were consistently achieved:  Sales became positive, EBITDA was dramatically increased, and manager and employee turnover was reduced.”

He credits his expertise to “having the great fortune to work directly with and learn from some of the most legendary CEOs and leaders in our industry.” Stewart has operated alongside the famous chef, Jose Andres with Think Food Group, Roger Berkowitz with Legal Sea Foods, Ruby Tuesday’s Sandy Beall, Allen Bernstein with Morton’s of Chicago, Gene Lee with Darden Restaurants, and John Creed with Chart House Restaurants. 

His focus on growing a company through “careful planning, clarity, and strategy, while ensuring high standards” delivers excellent results. For example, he developed and grew Darden Restaurants’ Bahama Breeze to 65 locations, and took Legal Sea Foods from 24 restaurants to 38. As the current chief operations officer for Big Red F Restaurant Group, he’s reduced year-over-year employee turnover by more than 43% and increased sales by 12%. 

Yet, Stewart admits that the ongoing pandemic severely affects restaurant sales and customer experiences. However, innovative thinking is crucial to staying afloat and profitable in hospitality. Find out how Stewart and his team overcome unique situations by rethinking four key areas. 

The challenge: COVID-19 and the restaurant industry

COVID-19 represents one of the biggest crises that restaurant entrepreneurs have ever faced. Stewart reports that “overnight, our facilities were closed with the impression that the virus would transmit freely in a restaurant. We were challenged with rethinking how to serve guests with pick-up and delivery. Then, how to ensure profitability with only 25% to 50% of the tables available to guests for dine-in service.“

Stewart knew his organization needed to adjust its approach quickly. To meet this test, Stewart emphasizes that “owners must successfully overcome the impact and emerge delivering a compelling experience for each guest.”

The solution: Reduce costs while reimagining experiences

Guests want to feel safe and comfortable. Many restaurants delight customers by incorporating these aspects into their brand messaging from the get-go. But, the pandemic took away that security and left guests feeling uncertain about their dining experience. 

According to Stewart, “Successful restaurateurs had to pivot hard to rethink our industry. That meant revising our views on technology, sanitation, social media, menu engineering, and ghost restaurants while reducing costs.” Stewart recommends exploring how different ideas are taking root in the restaurant industry.  

1. Use restaurant technology to deliver seamless service

This crisis will forever change the way we approach technology in the restaurant industry. Payments through contactless technology are critical for guests, as they don’t want to touch a pen used by others, and they don’t want to touch a check or check folder either. And of course, guests are wary of using a menu that hasn’t been sanitized in front of them. 

Fortunately, technology provides answers, even for small businesses. For example, you can use a QR code for menu delivery. Your guests scan the code with their mobile phone and enjoy finding meal options without touching a physical menu. With contactless payment, your in-house, pick-up, and delivery diners appreciate a safe and seamless experience. 

2. Incorporate sanitation efforts at every touchpoint

Restaurant guests want to know that your primary focus is on maintaining the highest safety standards. To reassure your guests, you must prioritize their comfort and well-being. Do this by demonstrating sanitation at every level, from a crew member wiping down the front door to thoroughly cleaning tabletops and chairs. Furthermore, Stewart says, “The use of tamper-proof packing is critical to guarantee that guests know that a delivery person hasn’t touched any food during the delivery process.”

3. Explore ghost restaurant concepts 

As restaurant owners look for ways to cut costs and improve profitability, ghost kitchens provide opportunities. You can utilize kitchen space and food products while increasing employee productivity and sales. Plus, restaurateurs can ensure additional profitability by combining a ghost kitchen with a well-planned and aggressive social media strategy. 

4. Apply menu engineering and cost management tactics

The ability to streamline the menu, have menu items with healthy gross profit, and reduce the number of required cooks are extremely important. Although decreasing your restaurant staff isn’t something any owner wants to do, Stewart says, “With only 50% of the dining room able to be utilized, a reduction of 50% of the staff is necessary.” 

Navigate a crisis with confidence

A consistent, transparent, and comprehensive approach is the best way to manage and overcome challenges in the restaurant industry. Going forward, Stewart maintains that “the success of a restaurateur will always be creativity and the ability to ensure that each guest feels safe so that they are compelled to return.”

Discover solutions for your restaurant 

From increasing sales during a crisis to ghost restaurant development, Stewart relies on deep industry expertise and a strategic approach. Turn around your business and survive economic uncertainty by scheduling a call with Stewart

Expert byline:

Stewart Newbold has been an important leader for outstanding restaurant companies for almost 30 years.  Currently, he is the COO for Big Red F Restaurant Group, as well as a consultant for several restaurant groups, investment bankers, and equity firms.  He worked with the famous chef, Jose Andres, at Think Food Group and ensured that all restaurants were Michelin awarded.  Stewart has served as the Vice President for Legal Sea Foods, Ruby Tuesday, and Morton’s of Chicago.  He was part of the team that developed and grew Bahama Breeze and Season’s 52 for Darden Restaurants.  He began his career with Chart House Restaurants, moving up through the ranks to head up the East Coast.

Posted in

Related Posts