Experts create the first virtual brand

March 4, 2006
You are 10 years old again. Sitting near a glowing fire, you roast marshmallows and listen to the elders' scary stories. As the campfire crackles and chili boils over an open flame, you are surrounded by friends and family.
At the Camp Out Grill, this moment is recreated. Only instead of marshmallows and hot dogs, you enjoy a wholesome meal of succulent rotisserie chicken and garlic mashed potatoes, or a quick-and-easy lunch of good-old-fashioned mac and cheese. With more than 30 menu items created by celebrity chef Kerry Simon, the Camp Out Grill's fare is sure to please your palate. And in a camp out-like ambience filled with rich textures and warm tones, you just might feel like you're at a camp fire.
Camp Out Grill is the spin-off of a celebrity-chef-driven casual-gourmet restaurant called Campfire. Unpretentious, with a focus on classic comfort food with a flair, Camp Out Grill serves as an outlet for guests who want to enjoy the food of Campfire but don't have time for the full restaurant experience, want a quick business lunch or need to bring home a great dinner for the family.
At Camp Out Grill, patrons will enjoy a comfortable atmosphere. (Rendering created by Matt Lowe from In House Studio.)
But Camp Out Grill is not real. For now, it's a virtual brand owned by chef Simon and Vision 360, a Dallas-based restaurant design firm.
It all began when Fast Casual publisher Paul Barron traveled to Texas to meet with Vision 360's Michelle Bushey and Brad Belletto. Barron had a new restaurant idea but needed help to develop operations, marketing plans and branding. Barron brought several experts aboard to build the Camp Out Grill concept. Today, all the legwork has been completed from design to recipes to kitchen set-up. The brand is available to purchase from Simon and Vision 360.
Because of Camp Out Grill's innovative set up and attractive menu, Barron envisioned the industry learning from this new fast-casual concept. He also believed operators could learn what it takes to create their own brand.
The market
According to Vision 360 officials, there is a need for the Camp Out Grill in the marketplace.
The floor plans for Camp Out Grill were created by Vision 360, a Dallas-based restaurant design firm.
"People want high-quality comfort food," Bushey said. "Camp Out is designed to bring Campfire-like gourmet comfort-food to the masses on a less-expensive platform."
Bushey said the food inspiration actually came from Simon, who in 1991 was dubbed the "Rock 'n' Roll Chef" by Rolling Stone magazine for his work with Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Bruce Willis, Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton and George Clooney. Simon is known for his more traditional homey food. At his gourmet restaurants, he features American favorites such as macaroni and cheese and buttermilk onion rings. He created the same type of recipes for the Camp Out Grill.
"The Camp Out menu is straight-forward American food. It's food that people eat on a regular basis," Simon said. "That was sort of the inspiration: something that could be approachable every day. Americans really appreciate good, old-fashioned American food, but in a healthy way."
The Camp Out menu gives diners the choice of traditional fare such as succulent, zesty meatloaf and Chili. "To me, you don't fool with American food and Chili is American. There are different ways to roast chilies to make them spicier. But this Camp Out Chili combo is straight-forward: ground beef, chilies, tomatoes... you just don't fool with it," Simon said.
The menu also displays atypical novelty foods like fried Twinkies. "It's kind of rich. Deep fried. Good stuff. This is definitely not for your vegetarian crowd," Simon said.
It will work
When PanAsian became popular, naysayers said it was just a trend. When Mexican restaurant chains hit the market, some investors believed the segment wouldn't last. But as the endurance of Panda Express and Rubio's proves, a good concept is a good concept.
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"Pretty much, most food trends can become long-term if they are presented correctly," Bushey said. "A good restaurant is measured by good food quality, good service and a comfortable environment, along with price."
Bushey said Camp Out brings the latest fast-casual trends to life by offering healthier and more traditional foods. But just because the food is trendy doesn't necessarily equal a successful restaurant, she said.
"Behind every successful restaurant brand are people who know the industry and spend hours strategically planning the technology inside, the operations and menu," she said. "And of course, you have to have good food. But in this industry, it must be served in at least eight to 10 minutes."
Simon said if the Camp Out Grill hit the market tomorrow, the concept would be a success.
"I think it would work in some markets better than others, but people relate to these traditional American foods," he said. "The food business has gone through a zillion changes the last six years alone and I think people are looking for more healthy or down-to-earth food. And I believe the future is in something like the Camp Out Grill."
With the Camp Out concept, food can be adapted and changed.
"If the menu is Asian, you can't add a burrito down the road," said Brad Belletto, president of Vision 360. "You can also adapt regionally, too. What's comfort food in Texas is not comfort in New England."
Bringing the Camp Out Grill to market
In order for any business endeavor to work, the decision-makers must be knowledgeable and have passion for their respective industries. There is more than a century's worth of restaurant business experience among the creators of the Camp Out Grill. And each contributor believes this virtual brand will become the next trend. 
"This is a new genre for the fast-casual industry," Bushey said. "In order for any new concept to work, you need people who understand the industry. We have just been following the trends and seen the need. The restaurant has good food, solid technology and an efficient operations plan."
In addition to the pleasure food, what makes Camp Out Grill different is the technology and hip design. The facility will seat approximately 80 to 100 customers inside with additional patio seating depending on the location. Interiors will represent a modern lodge — contemporary but comfortable and inviting. If customers are not completely in awe of the restaurant's essence, they will be by its technology.
Employees will use hand-held units to take orders or guests can use self-serve kiosks for ordering. Customers can take advantage re-loadable Camp Out cards. Of course the incentive for the cards is cardholders receive exclusive discounts and offers from the restaurant. Customers can also take orders online, phone or fax.
"We really looked at every angle to create the inner-workings of this restaurant," Bushey said. "It will work."
Inside the operations
The restaurant footprint is projected at 2,700 square feet. Assuming maximum flexibility in the seating, a minimum of 80 seats inside could generate 70-percent penetration in seating or a maximum of 56 people at any one turn.
Restaurant operations consultant Alan Guinn said the restaurant will run with one manager, two assistant managers and four crew leaders. At least one assistant and three crew leaders will generally be designated as back of house (BOH)-based employees to ensure complete coverage of food prep and presentation. 
Guinn said in terms of sales, 56 people with 11 turns per day at $5.68 a check generates $3,560. Plus, patio seating of 24 with three turns a day equals an additional $1,248. He said takeout should generate an additional $670 a day. "That makes the total average sales per day of $5,470, or annualized sales in the unit of just under $2 million sales annually," he said. 
BOH labor would generally be more costly than front of house (FOH) with tip credit computed on FOH employees. "With the way Camp Out is designed, an operator would have less employees utilized because of self-service kiosks," Guinn said.
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Managing a restaurant such as this — especially in the start-up phase — would be a challenge which most managers would immediately embrace. There will need to be definitive prep charts developed with average portion sizes worked out through menu-casting. Portions must be properly controlled for food costs to be realized at profitable levels. Front-end labor will be controlled through hourly scheduling tied to kiosk utilization and/or individual ordertaker use.    
The manager of Camp Out will need to be fully versed in all food prep, in all product service standards, and should constantly train subordinate management to cover all key positional areas during each shift.
Kitchen set up would be split between initial prep and final prep areas, with final prep areas functioning in a "line" format — and all initial prep done in the back room areas.  The mix of these two kitchen areas would be 35 percent initial prep and 65 percent final prep utilization.
Training Camp Leaders
Camp leaders are responsible for developing a special type of crew person. Each camp leader is expected to know the Camp Out Grill inside and out. They will be graded on knowledge and rewarded for achievements, such as the most overtime hours worked or quickest prep time.
The most senior camp leaders should mentor junior camp leaders. For demonstrating meritorious leadership development, camp leaders receive badges that signifies the worker's "team-player" attitude.
"Camp Out Grill recommends a four step training method be implemented for both FOH and BOH employees, with step four being the demonstration phase for the trainee," Guinn said.
The FOH and BOH employees will be trained through interactive and touchscreen POS training. Each Camp Out Grill will be fully wireless in all electronic components, including RFID capabilities in the kitchen for full inventory control, and will offer two additional laptop computers connected to a central server, where the training instructional segments can be accessed by any employee at any time from almost anywhere in the restaurant.
The FOH Camp Leader will have a minimum of 10 hours one-on-one training. Ordertakers are considered as Trail Guides and FOH employees. The BOH employees should have a minimum of 15 hours of raw prep, finish preparation, and presentation training. 
Innovative technology
The state-of-art technology at Camp Out Grill makes everything easier for the customer. It all begins with customer management cards. In these cards are RFID chips that track guests. When a customer walks into the restaurant, his or her name appears on the 52-inch plasma menu out kiosk
"This can be used in a lot of different ways to improve the customer experience. The instant notification allows cashiers to greet customers by name as the guest approaches the POS, and it informs the employee of the customer's previous order," Bushey said. "At the kiosk, the customer's previous order is on screen as they approach. This technology really increases the potential for repeat orders."
At the Camp Out Grill, RFID is also used to track inventory and process orders. Bushey said the menu boards are integrated with the POS software. The plasma-screen menu boards can display video, advertising or menu item photos.
During the busiest hours of the day, wireless POS ordertakers are used in the queuing line.
"By using today's latest technology, we are able to increase efficiency in the kitchen as well as improve speed and accuracy," she said. "We have truly concepted a high-tech, state-of-the-art restaurant with great food."
Camp Out Grill Bios
Brad Belletto is the president and co-founder of VISION 360. Belleto established himself in the restaurant and entertainment industry more than 30 years ago. He has consulted, designed and built more than 200 bars, nightclubs and restaurants throughout the United States and the Caribbean.
Michelle Bushey, partner and design director for VISION 360, has more than 13 years of experience in restaurant interior design. She has designed restaurants in Orlando, Indianapolis, Baton Rouge and Dallas.    
Kerry Simon owns Simon kitchen and bar (Las Vegas, N.V.), which is the latest canvas for the chef/partner. As with all great artists, Simon's lust for adventure and creativity combined with incredible opportunities has brought this aspiring rock musician to center stage as a culinary master. Featuring delicious elements and combinations from his illustrious career, Simon creates Signature American cuisine bringing Las Vegas dining to rockstar level. Simon's curiosity for cooking did not start right away. In his late teens, Simon found himself saving up for an electric guitar by working at Little Caesars Pizza restaurant in Chicago. This summer job ignited the spark that turned Simon's "midnight hours" experimentation with recipes from Julia Child's cookbook into enrollment at the age of 20 in the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.
Alan Guinn, the managing director of The Guinn Consultancy Group, has more than 33 years of corporate experience. Guinn has established multiple distribution networks, extensive funding opportunities and business developments. His specialties are restaurant operations, organizational development and leadership & management.
Janelle Barlow, a best-selling author and brand scientist for the restaurant and retail trade.
Paul Barron, founder and publisher of and Fast Casual magazine, knows better than most just what it takes to separate restaurants from the pack. Barron has been involved in the restaurant industry for 20 years and continues to set the pace on innovative ideas that stretch the imagination of the restaurant industry.

Topics: Asian , Bakery Cafe , Coffee / Specialty Beverages , Customer Service / Experience , Fast Casual Magazine , Food & Beverage , Franchising & Growth , Furniture and Fixtures , Sandwich , Self Service , Trends / Statistics

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