Learn how this Florida-based casual dining chain transformed their business overnight.
Founded in 1999 as a BBQ sports bar, Smokey Bones has since become a full-scale casual dining restaurant centered on protein. With 61 locations across 16 states, they specialize in being the masters of authentic fire-grilled and house-smoked meats. Because BBQ naturally travels and caters well, off-premise dining was already a growing part of Smokey Bones’ business.
“Our motto going into 2019 was being able to serve the guest anywhere, anytime,” said Nicole Milnthorpe, CFO, Smokey Bones. After piloting with DoorDash in early 2019, they expanded it to all of their locations within six months. Smokey Bones also recently opened a ghost kitchen in downtown Chicago to help expand their delivery business.
While Smokey Bones had a strong takeout business going into 2020, it was still secondary to their dine-in sales. That all changed once the COVID-19 pandemic hit and restaurants around the world closed dine-in operations.
“Our business model converted to an off-premise-only strategy overnight,” explained Milnthorpe. Smokey Bones now had to figure out how to flip their strategy and optimize their business for pickup and delivery sales.
CFO, Smokey Bones
As an established DoorDash partner, Smokey Bones already knew best practices for delivery by the time the pandemic hit. The DoorDash team advised them on everything from streamlining takeout menus, testing marketing strategies, and analyzing which items were most popular in each market.
“Knowing how to customize to each market has been a key driver of our success with DoorDash,” said Milnthorpe. “Their data-driven approach allowed us to make some strong financial decisions very quickly.”
Smokey Bones also experimented with a variety of promotions, such as Try Me Free, $5 Off, and DashPass. “We’re not gun-shy with testing,” joked Milnthorpe.
Smokey Bones saw huge growth through the DoorDash platform, more than doubling their off-premise sales year-over-year. This allowed Smokey Bones to sustain the business and keep the majority of their restaurants operating in the first few months of COVID-19, and reopen 100% of their locations, plus one new location, as they moved into a recovery phase.
“We’ve set ourselves up in a position to successfully navigate the pandemic, and Doordash was key to that strategy,” said Milnthorpe. “They’ve been a tremendous partner, and I know we’ll continue to grow and evolve together.”
Smokey Bones now sees delivery as a major long-term growth opportunity. “Going forward, off-premise and dine-in will remain primary business strategies,” said Milnthorpe. “And I think that, coupled with an emphasis on digital technology, will be the new normal in casual dining.”