A burger joint might not be the first type of restaurant that comes to mind when it comes to Irish cuisine, but the growth of 4-year-old fast casual concept Rocket's is proof that consumers in Ireland are all about the chain's freshly ground, grass-fed, hormone-free Irish beef burgers.
The five-unit Dublin-based brand, which also serves fries, hand-dipped milkshakes and buttermilk chicken, is not only targeting Ireland, though. Rocket's recently opened a location in Germany, and plans to launch 15 new stores per year throughout Europe, said Tobi Lukaschek, a business development executive at Rocket Restaurants, the parent company of Rocket's.
Rocket Restaurants owns three other restaurant brands, as well including Eddie Rocket's, an American-style diner with 43 locations; The Counter, a custom burger concept with two locations; and Flash Harry's, a bar and eatery in south Dublin.
"Of course, we are also exploring other suitable locations in Europe," said Lukaschek, who recently chatted with FastCasual about Rocket's growth trajectory. "Expansion outside Europe is being considered, and we are particularly keen on Middle Eastern countries such as Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the UAE."
Q. How does the design complement the branding?
A.The in-store look and feel forms an essential part of the Rocket's brand experience. In fact, we use the restaurants to convey our brand image. Outlets are sharply designed to reflect modernist, vibrant urban life — so much [so] that we make the on-site experience the core of our marketing.
Each Rocket's look and feel is tailored to the space it occupies, featuring localized designs and fit-outs. As part of each store's planning phase, we collaborate with local artists and architects to incorporate local neighborhood-specific design elements into the restaurant's design concept, making each restaurant unique and relevant to its community with creative, shareable moments that resonate for the long term.
We believe that food served fast does not have to be a "fast-food experience." This notion is reflected in the materials and finishes you will see in our restaurants. Our restaurants feature shuttered concrete floors, burnished metal, exposed brick walls, reclaimed timber, industrial and neon lighting. Seating arrangements are designed to host groups and singles alike.
Each Rocket's features self-service Coca-Cola Freestyle soda dispensers and condiment stations to meet today's consumer's urge for customization and individuality, adding to the experience-led design of our restaurants. Each restaurant is designed to resonate and project an individual, emotional "nonchain" experience in look and feel.
Q.Will you open additional franchised or corporate units, or both? Why?
A. Our strategic focus is franchising restaurants. In line with that, we are committed to expanding the Rocket's brand together with experienced franchise partners who have local market knowledge and who share our philosophy of food quality and our culture of hospitality and guest experience.
And we are delighted to have teamed up with Areas as a partner for Germany with whom we will establish the Rocket's brand across this country. [Areas is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Elior Group, Paris, and operates more than 2,000 sales outlets in 13 countries in Europe, the U.S., Mexico and Chile.]
Q. Why would a potential franchisee go with Rocket's as opposed to another burger brand?
A. We are seeing a generational shift in people's expectations of food. Nowadays people want higher-quality ingredients, made fresh-to-order and Rocket's meet that need.
We give people a modern spin on hamburgers, milkshakes, fries and chicken in a vibrant and urban atmosphere. We are hospitality minded, community- and design-driven. We bring all these elements together and we feel that this combination is what makes Rocket's stand out and rise above the competition.
It is important to note our experience and heritage in the fast casual market. Rocket's is part of the Rocket Restaurants Group; allowing us to avail of and benefit from decades-long expertise in food service, franchising and restaurant operations. With over 25 years of experience in franchising, we have proven franchise management and support systems in place that have helped us grow our franchise network to 51 restaurants across Ireland, Northern Ireland and Spain.
Most recently, we achieved the distinction of winning the Irish Franchise of the Year 2017 award. Rocket Restaurants Group serves more than 6 million customers per year across our network of restaurants. And with English, German, Spanish, Swedish and French speakers among our Franchise Support and Operations Teams, we are suitably geared for international expansion.
Rocket's is highly scalable and suitable for small and large retail spaces alike, including high streets, shopping centers, train stations and airports.
Q. How do you get the word out to customers about your brand?
A. We have always had a heavy focus on public relations and social media to connect with the local community. Word of mouth accelerated by millennials on social media and online review platforms has been our formula.
Our core customer base is people who have grown up in the digital age. Accordingly, we fit our restaurants out with USB and power charging points as well as high-speed guest Wi-Fi to meet today's consumer needs and to promote user-generated marketing content. Traditional advertising plays a lesser role for us.
Q: Who develops your recipes?
A. We have a dedicated in-house team for menu and recipe development who work hand-in-hand with our quality assurance team to drive innovation and to ensure consistent quality standards across our network of restaurants.
Our menu is deliberately focused on a small number of hamburgers, fries, milkshakes and chicken products as we philosophically believe in preparing each menu item exceptionally well and in maintaining excellent quality.
Time and again we have found that this formula resonates with our guests. We can — where required — ensure that the menu meets kosher and/or halal dietary requirements.
Q. Do you deliver? If so, do you do it in-house or use a third party?
A. We do deliver. We have a limited amount of stores in which we do our own in-house deliveries. Over the past 12 months, however, we have been using third-party delivery agents in the majority of our city-based sites as it has allowed us to test the market and access different markets without the need to invest in technology and delivery personnel.
Our delivery has grown to the level where the sales equate to having an additional city center restaurant. Most recently, Deliveroo unveiled their top dishes of 2017 — and we are delighted to say that Rocket's made not only Ireland's top 10, but also the world's Top 100 for the most-ordered meals via Deliveroo.
Q. What technologies do you use to run the business (i.e., kiosks, mobile app, digital menu boards, etc.)?
A. Rocket's is based on walk-up counter service; both ordering and payment takes place at the counter. And because everything we serve is made fresh-to-order, we use wireless, GPS-based pagers to match customers with their orders.
Once the order is prepared, the pager lights up. From thereon, guests typically collect their orders from the counter, but we can likewise operate restaurants using food runners to deliver to tables. The average order-service time is five minutes.
From a back-office point-of-view, we use real-time cloud and app-based software solutions to manage inventory, purchasing, food safety, HR and staffing, cash management and reporting. The same goes for review and reputation management and quality assurance audits.