To Jeffrey Baker, the phrase “drive-through” conjures up an image of a minivan crammed with Little Leaguers eager to celebrate a victory with a sweet, refreshing Italian ice. “How do we properly get our customers these treats in a timely fashion?” says Baker, senior director of construction at Rita’s Italian Ice.
Baker spent the better part of 2022 thinking about this question and teaming up with industry and subject-matter experts to develop a set of guidelines and standards particular to Rita’s drive-through operations, which are far different than many fast-food restaurants.
“If you go to a McDonald’s, Burger King, or Taco Bell, their service standards are going to be quite different than ours, because we’re serving a custom-made product/treat that takes time to prepare,” Baker says. “When the customer orders, we can’t have a final product made and ready to go, like a hamburger, cheeseburger, or a taco.”
In 2024, Baker is overseeing an ambitious initiative that will retrofit many existing Rita’s shops with drive-throughs, while also building 40 new locations, some with drive-throughs. “Our first consideration will be: can the shop service a drive-through? With real estate costs and site acquisition costs, it will be on a case-by-case basis,” he says.
To further enhance the guest experience, Rita’s is implementing digital components to its menu boards. Proprietary in-house software will operate the boards to display limited time offers, order confirmation, and updated flavors in real time. This enhancement will not only help guests navigate the delicious offerings, but also make it easier for franchisees to make changes on the fly.
Coming out of the pandemic, Rita’s, like other brands in the sector, realized it needed to enhance its customer offerings by providing services of third parties, like Uber Eats, Grubhub, and DoorDash. With that in mind, Rita’s has elaborated on its Shop Design to improve that part of its operation.
“We want to expand our customer base to include anyone who might not be able to physically come to our shop but still wants a delicious treat and wants to have somebody pick it up,” Baker says. Third-party drivers will have dedicated windows, parking spaces, and freezers so they spend less time at the shop, thus improving the overall customer experience and enticing customers to order from Rita’s time and time again.
Baker’s biggest challenge at Rita’s is assisting the franchisees with supply chain logistics. Although it has improved recently, the opportunity is still staying in the know of supply chain challenges and getting in the queue with lead times.
Because the development of the shop is a major investment for franchisees, it’s paramount that proper planning and estimates are accurately forecasted. Baker is involved in educating franchisees on the development process and overall costs to build out and optimize Rita’s shops.
A 34-year seasoned veteran of the construction and quick-service restaurant industries, Baker began his career with McDonald’s Corporate managing restaurant ground-up construction, and special venue programs for colleges, hospitals, military, and transportation tollways. His other construction-related experiences include building and designing facilities for Burger King, Dunkin Donuts, Dollar Tree, and Dessange Group of North America, as well as the US Department of Defense for high-level security projects.
He advises those starting off in development to realize this type of career is a journey and in order to be successful, you must realize relationships are built one project at a time. For Baker, truth, integrity, and honesty are not just words, but the foundation for building a solid career in development.
One would think that managing a large government project with 136 direct reports would be most difficult, but the real challenge is managing the crew as well as logistics that is involved with working in a 1,000 square foot box where there is very little real estate to occupy. That’s where real leadership qualities are demonstrated. Rita’s Franchise Company does that every day.
Good leaders and employees are human and will make mistakes, fail, or fall, but a good leader stands in the gap, takes responsibility for the mistake or failure, learns from that mistake, implements change to resolve or remedy the mistake, and finds an amicable solution.
For Baker, part of the Marine’s motto, “improvise, overcome, and adapt,” always helps bring resolution.
Family owned and operated, K-B Lighting Manufacturing Company Inc. began operations in 1946 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Still located there today, K-B Lighting continues to supply the region with high quality lighting products at competitive prices. K-B has been an innovator of lighting technology, producing numerous long-lasting, high-efficiency, and cost-effective lighting products for today’s markets.