On the way home from the airport after a recent vacation, my wife and I stopped at a brand –new, just-opened A & W.
While many fast food chains have seen their business plateau, A & W is going through a resurgence.
This surprises me. A & W always struck me as decidedly second-tier in the fast food world. The ones I was familiar with tended to be a little shabby, the staff disorganized and the food expensive. Their mascot was a brown and orange-clad, pear-shaped bear who waddled along to a goofy tune played on the tuba. A bit corny andgimmicky.
So what's gotten into A & W?
It’s simple, really. First, they identified one thing that people really care about – food safety and quality. And second, they started to deliver that one thing simply, clearly and consistently.
A & W recognized that people are willing to pay more for food they trust. They committed to serving only drug- and hormone-free meat. And then they communicated that message over and over and over again.
A & W did not try to become something other than what they were – a place to get a hamburger. And while other chains expanded their menus, A & W stuck to relatively limited range of choices.
But they focused single-mindedly on one thing -- the quality of their meat.
And it seems to have worked. A & W plans to open 250 new stores across Canada over the next few years.
I’ve noticed a few other changes as well. The A & W I recently visited had a little electronic keypad near the door with a customer satisfaction survey that has four questions and can be completed in 5 seconds. The results of that day’s surveys were visibly displayed on screens at the order counter.
Also a beautifully-produced video about their food sources – a family-owned ranch in Alberta, an environmentally-sustainable greenhouse in California -- was running on a loop in the restaurant area.
A & W also has relatively low franchise fees and many of their new franchisees are millennials in their 20s and early 30s. That is the age group that consumes the most fast food, and younger owners can be expected to be attuned to their needs.
So, what are the takeaways (so to speak) for the church?
A couple of words of caution: I’m not making any judgments about whether eating a Teenburger is actually any better for you than eating a Big Mac, or just a marketing ploy. And, building a Christian community and selling burgers aren’t the same thing. We need to be clear about what A &W can and can’t teach us.
But I think there are a couple of lessons many congregations could learn here.
First, find something that people really care about that you can respond to. And second, commit to doing that one thing consistently well.
The experience of A & W shows that there is more than one way to succeed. The prevailing wisdom today says that people demand choice and churches need to get with the program and offer people more and more options in worship, programming, music, etc. But A & W is succeeding not by getting more diverse but by getting more focused on one thing that really matters to people. I observe congregations trying to do too much and ending up not doing anything particularly well. In these times of diminishing resources, we need to learn how to focus.
It would be better to find one or two things that make a real difference to people’s lives, commit to doing those things consistently and well, and let people know that’s what you’re good at, over and over and over again. Whether it’s hospitality, prayer practices, young families, seniors, creative worship, ministry to a particular population, or one specific aspect of any of these things, find those one or two areas in which you are able to excel and make those your priority.
And let people know about it in any way you can.