Pre-COVID, labor expenses ran at 38.5 percent of net sales because that Steak ‘n Shake. Something had to change.

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Across Steak ‘n Shake’s footprint, many of the heritage chain’s dining rooms continue to be closed. When they’re no going away, they won’t ever look the same, either.

The brand find itself in the middle of a “radical transformation,” chairman Sardar Biglari said in a letter to shareholders. And also one aspect involves completely transitioning Steak ‘n Shake come a quick-service restaurant chain.

Yet what does this watch like? it’s a route Biglari common pre-pandemic before COVID-19 locked up capital. Steak ‘n Shake ended up make the efforts to market 15 nature to fund remodels. However no sale take it place and also parent firm Biglari Holdings Inc. Discovered itself on the doorstep the a gaue won restructuring, v the deadline come pay off $153 million in debt quick approaching. It was able to stop Chapter 11, seemingly at the 11th hour, as it solve the burden with resources from Biglari Holdings. The upshot being, Steak ‘n shower no longer carries debt.

And that reignites the original conversation.

Steak ‘n Shake, a full-service brand because that its very first 78 years, is in the process of equipping units with what Biglari labeling “advanced self-service.” when customers return, over there won’t be servers. There won’t even be air hostess behind counters. Rather, Steak ‘n shiver guests will certainly initiate transactions in ~ a kiosk. “We are embracing efficiency and also transitioning the service model to empower our guests to place and also pick increase their very own orders,” Biglari said.

Steak ‘n Shake raised off-premises sales at equivalent stores 14.3 percent in 2020 as dine-in felt the COVID cut. This wasn’t a pandemic-specific trigger, though. A mix of labor-intensive, slow production and high-cost table business proved a faulty organization model for Steak ‘n shower well prior to coronavirus, Biglari said. “Simply put, the operation of dining rooms v table service was a money loser,” that said.

Pre-COVID, labor costs ran at 38.5 percent of net sales because that Steak ‘n Shake—an alarmingly high number that inserted it at a 6–8 percentage allude disadvantage compared with classification peers.

“What I had actually previously assessed as a sustainable competitive advantage proved to be anything however when our labor expenses ongoing to increase over the last several years,” Biglari said. “The Achilles’ hoe of raised labor expenses in the dining room negated our various other advantages, resulting in an overall handicap.”

By eliminating the unprofitable business dining rooms generated, the chain effectively reduced revenue through one half, Biglari said. However, Steak ‘n Shake"s labor currently runs at around 29 percent of net sales, albeit in ~ a lower sales volume.

“The dining room v table business was undoubtedly a revenue center, however it was not a profit center,” Biglari said.

“A conversion come a bonafide quick-service restaurant chain will, we believe, boost the that company economics,” he added. “A refuse to invest, however, would mean that our rivals would retain their edge.”

To the previously point, Steak ‘n Shake’s counter-service desires weren’t born out of COVID. It simply would have actually taken several years to get there before, Biglari said.

Coronavirus motivated the company to set a much firmer target, do the call to emerge from the general public health dilemm with a different organization model because that Steak ‘n Shake’s entire system.

“In effect, the pandemic sped up the inevitable,” Biglari said.


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The company’s confidence in the new service model, and resolve to roll it out, way the bulk of earnings generated in 2020 “will no be accessible to Biglari Holdings.” In various other terms, that going to take a far-ranging investment to accomplish the goal, with financial softness follow me the way.

The resources outlay every unit ranges between $100,000 and also $200,000 to remodel the inner of the restaurant, present a brand-new point-of-sale system, and also install the self-order kiosks.

Biglari said expenditures would be phased in through prioritizing restaurants “that own exemplary leadership—namely, those owned and operated by franchise partners, who invariably administer the gold traditional in service.”

This brings Steak ‘n Shake come its various other “monumental change” taking form today, and also yet another initiative that ordered headlines prior to COVID snatched them.

In fall 2018, the chain announced a refranchising initiative designed to foster a single-unit operator system. Basically, monitor the Chick-fil-A model to improve business through entrepreneurial-minded owners.

Vividly, Steak ‘n shake would perform so by questioning franchisees to do an upfront investment of just $10,000. Steak ‘n Shake then assessed a fees of approximately 15 percent the sales as well as 50 percent the profits. “We generate many of our revenue from our share that the profits. Under this arrangement, a franchise companion is able come earn considerable sums, i beg your pardon is the way we want it,” Biglari said.

“In the end, naught is as essential as the method our customers space treated,” the continued. “It bring away the right management in a unit for customers to be offered in a warm, caring, and hospitable manner. To achieve our goal, we are structure a society of ownership at the unit level. For operators to think and act prefer owners, we believe they must be owners. We are becoming a company of owners, transforming the culture of the company in our quest for organization excellence.”

By the finish of 2020, Steak ‘n Shake convert 86 corporate-run stores right into these single-unit franchise partnerships—an rise of 57 partners from the former year. It had just 2 partners in ~ the beginning of 2019.

Biglari said Steak ‘n shower received roughly 35,000 applications. So 86 to represent an acceptance price of 0.25 percent.

In 2020, the partners earned, on average, $161,079, Biglari said. Some are also on monitor to make much more than $300,000 in their very first year.

“Doubtless, a good number that our partner will end up being millionaires. However make no mistake: We room not minting millionaires however are merely providing the means—they room earning every penny,” Biglari said.

For Steak ‘n Shake, the spontaneous turnover rate of its franchise partners was 1 percent last year.

Originally, the firm believed it would certainly take about three years to transition. There to be 400 company-run venues in ~ the time.

“I was overly positive with my timeline, but we have actually no intention of lowering our requirements to fulfill it,” Biglari admitted. “Whether that takes us an additional year or 2 is less important than ensuring that everyone entering the device is no much less talented or pushed than those we have actually assembled to date.”

The agency now has actually two franchise agreements. One is the nontraditional franchise-partner program. The 2nd is the classic franchise model, which Biglari claimed serves together Steak ‘n Shake’s means to flourish unit count. Like comparable companies, the unlocks expansion potential there is no a significant capital outlay. The funding is borne by third parties.

Starting in 2010, Steak ‘n Shake started investing considerable sums to advance its traditional franchise route.

Here’s a look in ~ the te comparisons.

Dollars in 000’s


Franchise royalties and other fees: $4,316Franchise marketing contributions: $6,516Franchise revenue (the two above combined): $10,832Number of franchise units: 71



Franchise royalties and also other fees: $12,505Franchise marketing contributions: $65,193Franchise revenue (the two over combined): $17,698Number that franchise units: 194


Steak ‘n Shake opened its an initial franchise unit in 1939. From 1939 to 2010, though, it prospered by an median of one franchise unit every year. The enhancement of 71 locations in 71 years contrasts with an increase of 123 in the past decade.

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“For the period 2011 with 2015, our franchise service operated at a loss however intrinsic value advanced,” Biglari said. “We allocated capital to develop the franchising service with the expectation of creating greater dollar worth for each dollar spent. Our classic franchise business—domestic and also international an unified is currently a prodigious cash generator. In 2020, classic franchise operations posted a profit of $6.9 million despite the disruption that the pandemic.”

The all at once financial photo for Steak ‘n shiver is a facility one. Existing management got hold of the reins on august 5, 2008. Indigenous 2009 through 2020, Steak ‘n shower sent nearly $300 million that cash to Biglari Holdings.

But the company’s performance has actually zigzagged in an ext recent windows. It placed together a strong eight-year operation out of the good Recession. After ~ same-store sales plummeted 7.1 percent in 2008, it reported seven straight calendar of positive gains, including a 7.5 percent operation in 2010 the stacked on a 4.1 percent boost the year before.