What’s the key to Burrito Bar’s pandemic success?

By Sarah Stowe | 18 Aug 2020 View comments

The Mexican-inspired Burrito Bar is counting its blessings. Right now the chain of 31 stores is reaping the rewards of some smart thinking, and quite a bit of luck.

“We’ve been going very well for the last two years and we haven’t been too affected by the pandemic,” reveals Shaun Butcher, general manager.

There have been no store closures, all staff are employed and even the two Victorian outlets are still trading in line with restrictions.

Not only has business continued across the network, it’s increased.

So what’s been the key to not just surviving the tough time but flourishing?

It’s been part luck and part judgement says Butcher.

The good judgement was to take a hard stance on marketing, continuing to put the brand in front of the consumer.

“We’re really aggressively going after sales. We went hard on marketing, promotions, and service channels.”

The business switched up its dine-in promotions to takeaway offers and took advantage of deals on delivery platforms.

“We stepped it up in the pandemic to get our business to the fore,” says Butcher.

Putting the success of the brand down to aggressive marketing seems simple. But Butcher admits luck played its part too.

“It was only simple for us because everybody moved in a different direction, everyone else was defensive so it was easy for us to take an aggressive position. It was fortunate for us.”

The marketing drive meant the Burrito Bar was well-placed to pick up new customers in a marketplace with diminishing competition as other hospitality venues shut their doors.

It also helped that the shift to takeaway and home delivery wasn’t a swift pivot for the chain.

Burrito Bar was traditionally a restaurant deriving 90 per cent of its business from dine-in but over the last two years a focus on boosting takeaway and home delivery has seen a shift in the mix. So although dine-in has continued to grow, pre-Covid it accounted for 55 per cent  of the business.

“We haven’t neglected dine-in, but have simply grown the other areas of the business as well,” says Butcher. “Overall, our average restaurant sales have more than doubled over the last two years. 

“We’re expecting to get dine-in returning, people like to get out and about, with an element of caution. But as people get comfortable, particularly in Queensland, numbers are increasing,” reveals Butcher.

The Burrito Bar has a diverse menu that's helped boost business during the pandemic | Inside Franchise Business

The Burrito Bar has a diverse menu that’s helped boost business during the pandemic | Inside Franchise Business

“Our existing menu is already very diverse and that has played to our advantage. Some of our biggest selling items aren’t even on the menu at other Mexican chains:  chicken wings, ribs, steak products. We like to give people wider options and we do desserts.”

In addition to the 27 Queensland stores there are two further outlets in northern New South Wales, and two in Victoria.

Stores are in a mix of locations: suburban and premium shopping centres, entertainment quarters, some standalone, some CBD. None are in food courts.

There are eight stores already in the pipeline to open before the end of the year, although some of those may be delayed because of Covid-19 restrictions.

Burrito Bar will be starting to recruit new franchisees from October with its first-ever recruitment campaign. So far growth has come through referrals, or existing franchisees opening further stores, which is a sign of confidence in the brand and its resilience.

“Some will be opening their third stores,” says Butcher. “When times are tough it’s great to see franchisees opening up more stores,” he says.