In the green room: Operation Plates

TLDR: This post is not about salad. As you’re about to learn, sweetgreen is launching Plates, a brand new menu that’s all about dinner.

Like all restaurants, sweetgreen has been profoundly impacted by COVID-19. As we write this, our day-to-day operations look completely different from where they were just a month ago. Not only have our restaurants transitioned to pick up-and-delivery only, but this pandemic has tested our company, our values, and how we connect people to real food. It has also provided us with a unique opportunity to ask ourselves, “If we were starting sweetgreen today, what would it look like? What would we change? What would we build?

Since 2007, we have been known as a “healthy salad chain” and a go-to lunch spot. But if we were to begin again right now, we’d expand our menu far beyond salads to become a destination for dinner.

For a long time, we’ve been dreaming of launching dinner. In fact, we were finally planning to introduce this new category next year. But given the current state of uncertainty, the need for warm, familial, and home-cooked food has never felt more important.

So, for the past 4 weeks, we’ve been focused on expediting this dream of ours: testing what dinner at sweetgreen could look like and operationalizing an entirely novel concept (normally a year-long process) in just 30 socially distant days.

Today we are launching Plates and to celebrate, we’re giving you a look into how it all happened. Let’s just say it’s been every bit as non-traditional as the (meal)times we’re living in, and we’re so humbled and thankful that you’re at the table with us.

Sunday, March 22: 30 Days? No Problem
It’s been 10 days since the start of quarantine — days are feeling like weeks and weeks are feeling like months. As a leadership team, we are having daily calls that extend even into the weekends to monitor the ever-changing situation.

And now we have a week of data to analyze. Not only have our sales been hit hard, but specifically our dinner traffic has been cut in half. No post work or workout salads. No dinner dates. Emotional cooking has taken over and everyone is stocking their fridges with groceries.

We immediately jump into problem solving mode and out come ideas like offering produce boxes or wine pairings or even toilet paper, we discuss it all.

Melissa, our VP of Ops Services asks why we couldn’t launch a dinner menu faster. The complexity of adding hot food has always been daunting, but given our empty dining rooms, we see an opportunity to use this time to make it happen.

We ended that meeting with one question: How fast could we create a brand new category?

Someone jokingly said 30 days.

And so the countdown has begun.

Monday, March 23: Virtual Focus Groups
Logan, our Head of Customer Insights, hosts our first ever Zoom focus group about people’s relationship with dinner during this pandemic and how sweetgreen can play a part. Out of it came three insights:

  1. There is an opportunity for sweetgreen to strike the right balance of healthy yet comfort food
  2. sweetgreen can offer dinner options at strong price/value
  3. The experience should be designed for delivery and convenience as top priority

We are taking these insights and heading into the kitchen tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 25: Menu Tastings
Nicolas, one of our founders, has spent the past two days cooking in the test kitchen with Chef Katelyn, Head of Culinary Casey, and Head of R&D Tim. They spend their socially distant time tweaking chicken cuts, adjusting oven settings, perfecting sauces, and testing packaging. He’s sending real time photos to the operations team to get their feedback.

Monday, March 30: Packaging Panic
Of course, our packaging is not readily in stock and may not arrive on time. On top of that, there is only one sample left for a photo shoot.

Our supply chain team sprints — what normally takes a year to design, gets finalized in a matter of days. The order goes in for packaging, just in time…fingers crossed🤞🤞🤞

Tuesday, March 31: War Room
Tim, who is project managing this effort, holds the first “War Room” meeting with a Trello board. Needless to say there is a lot to get done by April 30.

Wednesday, April 1: Company Town Hall
Today, Nicolas announces to the entire sweetgreen team at our virtual Townhall that we are launching plates on Thursday, April 30. All hands are on deck to bring this to life.

Friday, April 10: Behind The Greens
Our creative team concepts and shoots the entire marketing campaign in-house (socially distanced, of course). #PlateNight

Monday, April 13: Working 9 to….who knows
After several sleepless nights, the engineering team makes all the changes needed to our infrastructure so that plates can be modified.📱

Tuesday, April 14: Training Day
All training, recipe cards and our digital training playbook are finally done.

Printing happens through the night…. so that materials can get shipped to stores by Thursday.

The next morning we hosted a kick off training webinar with our Head Coaches and Area Leaders.

Monday, April 20: You’ve Got Mail
Today, plates packaging made it through customs. Everyone celebrated.

Thursday, April 23: Plate Up
Our restaurant teams have been training for a week and cooking plates. Our field leadership team is super competitive and challenge each other to a competition.

They show off their skills… team Bowery plate up the best looking dishes, according to Nicolas and Casey.

Thursday, April 30: Launch Date!
It’s (already???) here. Filled with excitement and exhaustion, we’ve just pressed send on the email that will arrive in your inbox this morning. We’ve come together as an entire company to bring a year long process to life in a little over 30 days, we’ve moved fast and will continue to listen to our community. Thanks for being on the journey with us. #PlateNight, anyone?

connecting people to real food since 2007.

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