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In the latest episode of Hospitality Hangout, Michael Schatzberg “The Restaurant Guy” and Jimmy Frischling “ The Finance Guy” chat with Tom Gordon, President and CEO of Slim Chickens Restaurants, to discuss launching a fast-casual chicken concept, robotics, and why technology is key to survival.

Gordon talks about the early days of his career. He shares that after college, armed with a finance and real estate degree, he was on the stockbroker track, but he quickly learned that he loathed the path. He decided to leave the world of Wallstreet for the restaurant industry, where he started waiting on tables and bartending


Gordon tells the guys that in 2001, he and his business partner, Greg Smart, began conceptualizing Slim Chickens, a fast-casual chicken tender restaurant. He shares memories of developing recipes in Smart’s garage, along with their friends, who provided feedback on everything from breading, sauces, and sides. Gordon says, “You know we really are still tracking with the majority of stuff we put together back then in the garage. From the garage, we found our first spot, and the rest is, you know, 19 years of history.” Gordon shares some growth metrics around Slim Chickens, which officially launched in 2003. He says the brand currently has 170 units, including 23 International locations, and has plans to scale to 600 units by 2026.


Frischling asks Gordon about the company’s early adoption of technology and why it is a key to survival. Gordon talks about recognizing the importance of technology early on and embracing it. He says, “We were early adopters of better POS systems, digital menu boards, and being able to change products and LTOs on a quick pace and a quick run.” He adds, “I think the most consequential investment we made, and the thing we did was, we invested in a really robust app and loyalty system about a year before Covid showed up.” He talks about technology being table stakes for the future and shares how tech helped the brand sell, maintain comps, and communicate with their guests through Covid. He admits that without the technology being implemented early on, Slim Chickens would have been in a much different position today. He adds “That embracing of technology, app-based ordering, online ordering, curbside delivery through the app and then all the ancillary parts and pieces, I mean made the year 2020 for us, and made sure 2021 stayed on track and here we are in 2022.”


Schatzberg talks about tech and innovation and asks Gordon to share more about the reactions employees are having to the food-running robots popping up in some of the Slim Chickens locations. Gordon shares that some franchises are testing the food-running robots and that they have been very open to embracing this type of technology. He says that while it’s been fun for everyone to see the new robots, there were concerns from some team members who worried about the robots making mistakes, such as delivering food to the wrong table. However, once they saw the robot in action, working successfully over and over again, they realized the usefulness of such technology. Gordon is quick to point out that while robots are helpful, they aren’t currently a complete replacement for people. He says, “Hospitality is hospitality. You got to take care of the guests, you got to seat people, and look them in the eyes and make sure they’re happy. But I think this is an adaptable technology with the right footprint in a restaurant.” He adds, “It’s a useful piece of the puzzle.”


Tune in to learn more. You can subscribe and listen to Hospitality Hangout Podcast on Spotify or directly on the Foodable Network.

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