Q&A: Why Quaker Steak & Lube is Betting Big on Emerging Food Trends
Quaker Steak & Lube may be a legacy brand best know for its automotive décor and its chicken wings, but that isn’t stopping this national franchise from changing with the times. With a menu overhaul launched earlier this year as part of its aggressive efforts to attract new franchisees to grow the brand, this chain continues driving forward and drawing in old and new guests alike.
Corporate Chef Lance Matthews joined the brand in 2016 when it was purchased by TravelCenters of America, a Fortune 500 company. Using more than 25 years of restaurant industry experience, he has led the chain’s menu redesign. With focuses on providing a variety of current trends, easy execution, and profitability, the new menu is positioning Quaker Steak & Lube to appeal to new demographics while driving strong profit margins for franchisees.
Here, Matthews explains how.
1. Why was it time for the Quaker Steak & Lube menu to get an update?
Last year, when TravelCenters of America took over as they were purchasing Quaker Steak and Lube, I came on board, and the first thing we decided to do was to do a deep dive into the menu to make sure we were ‘hitting on all cylinders.’ We did a review of the product mix and took feedback from both guests and franchisees into account. There were some slow moving items, so with this valuable feedback, we decided to revamp the menu. We still have our core item, which is chicken wings.
2. What were the goals for the menu change?
One goal was to offer bold new flavors that would appeal to a broader new audience, not just the core “lubies.” We wanted to be able to appeal to multiple generations. Secondly, we wanted to upgrade the quality of the food while maintaining a cost friendly margin and still having a diversified product mix. We want to steer guests away from the heavy dependency on bone-in chicken wings and move our guests to other menu items. Lastly, we want to make sure the house-made foods that we’re offering are able to be consistently executed for our at every franchise location.
3. What were the most exciting changes?
We recognize that our brand is rooted in the sauces for the chicken wings. We continue to rely on those sauces as a key to the brand’s identity. By taking a bold step and using international spices and trending flavors, however, we are able to stay relevant in the industry while meeting our guests’ desire for more item creativity. We’re able to take those new flavors and trends and roll them into different dishes besides just sauces, like salads and entrées. I’m working on a concept for the fall for burgers using compound butters and using spices from around the world from Ethiopia and Egypt and Japanese togarashi and Indian masala.
While we’ve left many core items on our menu, we’ve enhanced a few as well. We’ve taken off pretzels and added Bavarian pretzels with house-made beer cheese. Our house-made items have resonated with our audience based on the sales increases we’ve seen.
4. Why should existing and potential franchisees be excited about these changes?
We are a culinary-, execution-, and margin-friendly restaurant concept. We’re out to reclaim a leadership role in flavors and are offering more relevant options across the preexisting menus. We’re a little niche-style franchise out there with the family-oriented, car-enthusiast, garage-themed franchise, which seems to resonate, and with the trendy foods now on our menu, we can reach out to multiple generations.