Black Box Intelligence (formerly TDn2K) (Transforming Data into Knowledge) recently hosted its quarterly State of the Restaurant Industry webinar. This session featured guest speakers Margo Manning, Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Dolf Berle, President and COO from Dave and Buster’s. Dave and Buster’s received the Diamond Catalyst Award this past January at the annual Global Best Practices Conference for superior operational and workforce performance. The session also included speakers Victor Fernandez, Executive Director of Insights and Knowledge and Bob Rycroft, Managing Director from Black Box Intelligence (formerly TDn2K). The session started with the state of the industry:

What’s new?

  • This month, the Restaurant Industry Snapshot™ reported same-store comp sales at -0.7 percent, making it the second worst month for sales since February 2014.
  • March was the second of the three months in Q1 to experience negative growth.
  • Same-store traffic growth was reported at -2.7 percent for the month, down 0.3 percent from February.
  • Half of all brands tracked by Financial Intelligence (formerly Black Box Intelligence) reported negative same-store sales growth for the quarter, and all but two segments tracked experienced a sales decline.
  • 71 percent of brands reported negative same-store traffic growth in Q1.
  • Turnover rates increased at both the hourly and management level.

Why is this happening?

According to Fernandez, the decline in sales is a result of personal income and job growth slowing in recent quarters. “There is still some very healthy growth in terms of income collectively,” said Fernandez. “We are also seeing strong growth in the job market – 677,000 more jobs in Q1 than Q4, and 2.7 million more people working than a year ago.” But, year-over-year, the industry is still seeing a slowdown in these indicators. This slowdown combined with a declining consumer confidence correlates to the drop in comp sales. “The bottom line is, we are not as optimistic as we were a year ago.”

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Tips from the pros

How are the experts handling these challenges? Rycroft asked Manning and Berle to explain a few of Dave and Buster’s best practices for combating decreasing comp sales and skyrocketing turnover. Particularly, Rycroft questioned how the restaurant establishes and communicates the things that make Dave and Buster’s a unique place to work. Manning explained, “We have a tremendous amount of pride in the Dave and Buster’s experience, and trying to translate that into the employment experience is where we spend a lot of time. The biggest difference is over the last couple of years how we’ve leveraged social media… We have team members leverage social media to let their peers know about their employment experience at Dave and Buster’s.”

Why is this so important? “If we can get good talent in, our ability to retain them has been very strong. We attribute a lot of that to the environment we create in the store. The whole premise of the concept is fun.” Additionally, Manning explained that the company thrives on celebrating success. “We have a method of communication that allows us to do live interviews, video communication and celebration in a very public fashion.” The company holds several company-wide celebrations, including a “bright ideas” program that recognizes anyone who puts forth an initiative that gets implemented to make the Dave and Buster’s experience better. “Basically, anytime we can celebrate or throw a party, we’re doing it.”

Berle closed the discussion by commenting on the importance of truly connecting with each employee. “We’ve always believed that if you start with people, treat people well…and connect with the meaning and purpose in their lives and make the D&B journey part of it…then you will tap into something much more profound than just a paycheck.” When a company treats its employees well, it translates to employees treating guests well. Therefore, keep the focus on your employees and your sales and traffic will ultimately follow.

If you are a member of a Black Box Intelligence (formerly TDn2K) service and interested in listening to the full recording of the webinar, please contact Grace Kaucic at