In a restaurant segment pummeled by the pandemic, year-to-date sales at DiBella’s Subs are now trending even with last year. DiBella’s operates 44 family-owned locations in New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan, serving premium sandwiches, salads and cookies.
“We realized that we would need to think outside the box to survive,” said Jennifer Jackson, vice president of Brand and People of the family-owned company. “But we also wanted to stay true to our culture and values.”
DiBella’s initial goals were to keep its employees on the payroll and support people working to keep its communities safe.
Today, DiBella’s workforce remains steady at approximately 800. More than $365,000 has been raised for local food banks, with hundreds of thousands of meals donated to first responders and health care workers. Strategies to drive sales crafted during the early days of the pandemic continue to be leveraged and expanded, including:
• Off-premise sales: DiBella’s, which had a strong catering program in place before COVID-19, found new opportunities in unusual places. Donations to hospitals resulted in Dibella’s products being added to hospital cafeterias. Similarly, contributions to schools led to new catering orders.
Local catering teams are currently focusing on Black Friday, taking box lunch orders from retailers.
• Technology: Guests arriving at a store who are uneasy about entering can place orders via a web link or QR code. Their order immediately goes to the printer, as if they are at the counter. Introduced at a limited number of locations when dining rooms were closed last spring, it is now offered systemwide.
Before COVID-19, online sales were 15% to 20% of the chain’s volume. Today they are about 60%. A new online ordering system launched this month.
Loyalty club membership has increased 50% this year, and DiBella’s, which often gets requests to ship subs to areas where it does not have locations, is testing a nationwide delivery program.
“We’re very optimistic about the future, especially with the role technology will play in helping us adapt to our guests’ changing needs,” Jackson said. “Our goal is to make every guest feel comfortable with their DiBella’s experience, no matter what uncertainties lie ahead.”