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Impact Seminar: Gola On E-Commerce, Mackey On The Future Of Restaurants

October 19, 2022

The entire restaurant industry was turned on its head at the onset of Covid-19, and for those that survived, major pivots have been necessary. During the 46th Annual Impact Marketing Seminar, Helen Mackey, senior vice president of marketing for Darden Restaurants’ specialty restaurant group (which owns and operates major dining brands like Olive Garden, Yard House, The Capital Grille, and Eddie V’s), spoke to the resurgence of restaurants in her talk, “The Future of Restaurants—Post-Pandemic.”

Despite the difficulties the on-premise faced during the pandemic, Mackey said it also provided an opportunity to simplify business models and figure out how to work more efficiently. “We took a step back and said, ‘What don’t we need to do anymore? What’s a distraction? How do we clean up our menu?” she said. “[Now], we reduce waste and we put investment back into our people and on the plates.” She pointed to the rise of to-go operations and ghost kitchens, both of which continue to provide major income for the industry today, even as pandemic restrictions ease off almost entirely around the country.

At Darden restaurants in particular, Mackey emphasized the importance of what she called the “full service value equation,” as well. “It’s food, plus service, plus atmosphere, all over price—that equals value,” she said. For Darden, this has meant investing in known beverage brands, employee training, building renovations, high-end equipment, as well as keeping prices below inflation and competition. “When we do that and do it well, we get a chance for a second visit, and a third visit, because we’ve earned it.”

While the pandemic radically changed life for many and shuttered 12% of restaurants in the U.S., Mackey believes the future for the industry is bright. “We don’t have to yield our experiences or transactions; in fact, I would say double down,” she said. “Do more of those times when you’re going out and idea-sharing with people—when restaurants and bars win, our collective communities win.”

As the co-founder and CEO of on-demand delivery pioneer Gopuff, Yakir Gola has played a crucial role in changing the beverage alcohol delivery landscape. In a speech titled “The On-Demand Delivery Revolution for Beverage Alcohol,” Gola discussed the rise of “instant commerce,” and Gopuff’s role in pushing the rapid delivery model to the fore.

Gola kicked off his speech by noting that where many start-ups in the past decade have been asset-light, Gopuff went in the opposite direction, investing heavily in warehouses, products, and field teams to better reach its growing web of consumers; today, the company has over 300 micro-fulfillment centers across the country. Though the company launched with a non-alcohol focus, offering snacks, household items, and more, beverage alcohol joined the offering in 2016.

Today, Gopuff is a licensed alcohol retailer in 91 of the 115 markets it operates in. “Gopuff is fully vertically integrated; everything is fully controlled by the company, and we partner with the entire three-tier system,” said Gola. He explained that this gives the company complete ownership over an extensive inventory, enabling it to control, localize, and update its beverage alcohol selection at the drop of a hat. In 2020, the company made another move when it purchased California-based retailer Bevmo!; this purchase was significant as it marked Gopuff’s first foray into California, and gave it a brick-and-mortar retail presence, allowing for an omnichannel store that had both a full beverage alcohol assortment and traditional Gopuff inventory as well.

Gopuff thrived through the pandemic, which caused consumers to not only understand the business model, but become reliant on it. The company now adds around 450 new beverage alcohol brands to its assortment each year, and is expanding into more markets. While Gola noted that the on-demand delivery model isn’t for everyone—he anticipates that many companies that are currently trying to build overnight success with rapid delivery will go bankrupt—there remains plenty of upside in the channel waiting to be tapped.

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