Costa Vida Fresh Mexican Grill is the next Food On Demand Outstanding Operator.

Based in Utah and growing quickly, Costa Vida received more nominations than any other brand—for many good reasons.

Allen Beck, director of off-premises and catering at Costa Vida, said the challenges and opportunities on the takeout, delivery and catering side of the business energize him, especially when leaning on the knowledge of other brands and professionals he’s met over the years.

“I’m the kind of guy that, if you give me something new that I don’t understand, I want to become an expert in it,” he said, stressing that getting advice from other operators can save time and money. “I never want to feel inferior or uneducated in a field that I feel like I’m passionate about.”

Allen Beck, Director of Off-Premises and Catering at Costa Vida.

Pressed for an example, he pointed to his time spent working with Juan George of 858 Partners, who was still with Olo in early 2020. After Beck’s manager asked him to try and understand the tech platform’s back end from an operator’s perspective, he began cultivating relationships to illuminate how Costa Vida could get the most out of its new technology partner.

Attending conferences, introducing himself to strangers, and asking other industry leaders for their advice has become a critical part of how this mid-size brand quickly and dramatically revamped its off-premises program and customer-facing technology without getting bogged down by countless RFPs.

“Can I get 30 minutes of your time to just chat? If you were in my shoes, what would you do?” These questions became a familiar refrain for Beck and his team when the brand began building out its tech stack, retrofitting the brand for more off-premises volume and offering a better dining experience to its guests regardless of channel.

“I don’t have the budget as a small business like CKE Restaurants or Wingstop or Chipotle does,” Beck added. “But what they’ve done in our industry that we, as small businesses, can learn from is the building of the tech, right? I don’t have to go out there and vet out or do [requests for proposals] for 20 different companies.”

Instead of reaching out to every possible technology provider, he could talk to industry peers about who their final choices were in whatever technology category, and narrow down his process to skip further ahead in the selection process based on their knowledge.

Being at the forefront of the industry, riding the coattails of new technologies and learning from earlier adopters is what Beck loves most on his team, which now includes Wade Allen—one of the restaurant industry’s primary thought leaders—who joined Costa Vida in May of 2023.

Cultivating real relationships

At present, Costa Vida has 94 locations across 17 states, three units in Canada, and three additional U.S. locations opening by the end of 2023.

Looking ahead, the brand expects to open an additional 7 to 10 units over the next year, with longer-range plans to grow even faster.

The brand’s systemwide volumes sit at approximately 40 percent dine-in, 30 percent drive-thru and 30 percent off-premises orders. While Beck said that’s a favorable split at the moment, he’d like to see even more coming through drive-thru lanes and off-premises channels to meet the brand’s youngest customers where they are.

“Two years ago, we didn’t have this mindset,” he added. “And then in the last year or so—especially with bringing Wade on—we’ve been able to adapt this mindset.”

Most recently, Costa Vida launched a totally new app and website, accompanied by a revamped loyalty program. It was a complete overhaul after using the previous system for eight years. It’s already driving results, with delivery orders increasing by more than 42 percent in just over a month.

Most critically, Costa Vida’s first-party delivery sales are increasing as third-party sales have fallen, improving the brand’s unit-level economics.

Since the brand still uses third-party providers for delivery fulfillment, even through first-party ordering channels, none of its critical partners have been left out of the action.

Of course, another benefit to these changes involves collecting more customer data that can benefit the company’s marketing and retargeting efforts. More granular customer data is also illuminating the demographic differences between ordering channels, which allows more precise targeting for marketing efforts and promotions.

Another of the biggest changes through these new upgrades was giving off-premises customers the ability to customize their orders, which wasn’t possible with the old system. Finding the right balance in customization—without offering off-prem customers too many choices—was one of the primary sticking points throughout the process.

“We wanted to be able to make a user interface that gave them the options [for customization] but didn’t overwhelm them,” Beck said. “Now they’re able to get it how they want, again, meeting our customers where they already are.”

Amid so many upgrades, catering sales are booming at Costa Vida. Coming soon is what Beck called a “completely revamped” catering packaging that will now be consistent across all of its locations, meaning that branding and performance will be the same for orders placed in College Station, Texas, for example, as it will for those placed in Apple Valley, Minnesota—the brand’s location that’s closest to the Food On Demand headquarters.

Asked about maximizing relationships with outside vendors, Beck said his team holds biweekly calls with all partners to let them know what’s happening across the brand and at individual stores, while also hearing about new features and other changes on the vendor side of the fence.

“I can honestly say, the ones that take the time and actually have those calls and don’t try to reschedule them…those relationships are great,” he added. “If something hits the fan and the world’s falling apart for an operator, I can call several of my [partners] because I have their cell phone numbers.”

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