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How Swiss Chalet keeps customers coming back: Building on tradition with a look to the future

Swiss Chalet has been welcoming guests across Canada since 1954
Swiss Chalet has been welcoming guests across Canada since 1954

For almost 70 years, Swiss Chalet has been one of Canada’s most iconic restaurants, but despite its rich history, the brand is making moves to ensure its continued future success.

Now under the ownership of Recipe Unlimited, the company opened its first restaurant in 1954 on Bloor Street West in Toronto, a location that operated for 52 years until closing in 2006.

As of June 2022, there were more than 190 Swiss Chalet locations across Canada, mainly in Ontario.

Over the past few years, the brand has undergone several shifts, both in-restaurant and in how they use technology to interact with customers.

Swiss Chalet’s chief operating officer (COO) Ron Simard told Canadian Business Franchise the company had some stores spanning more than 9,000 square feet, something they did not necessarily need anymore. He explains this is because there are so many platforms for the restaurant now, including delivery, takeout, and curbside pickup.

“So, we designed a newer version of our restaurant with a smaller footprint,” Simard says. “With this in mind, we’ve opened some restaurants less than 4,000 square feet.”

Space was not the only issue to be addressed at some of Swiss Chalet’s older locations. Another key consideration was technology.

“We rolled out a new app in November 2020, and we had to look at how we could make it easier for our guests to do business with us in any way they choose,” he adds.

Due to the rise of food ordering apps such as UberEATS and DoorDash, the company upped its technology game to allow employees to manage all these platforms.

Upgrades have also taken place in the kitchen. Simard says the company installed “smart fryers” which have helped to manage the use of oil and keep product quality at its finest.

Swiss Chalet is best known for its rotisserie-style chicken, but most customers may not realize there is quite a long and detailed method to delivering the product to them.

“We need a specific skill set to do this … a skill set that is disappearing as technology grows,” Simard explains. “It is a very long process. It is not just the cooking, but the afterward to ensure the integrity of the product is maintained.”

By using more technology in this process, Simard says “it takes away some of the complexities.” It also means fewer employees are needed in the kitchen and can be reallocated to guest services such as waiting and hosting staff.

Having been in business for 68 years, Simard confidently states, “we see ourselves as Canada’s kings of chicken.” For him, what puts Swiss Chalet above its competitors is no doubt its product.

“Our signature sauce is amazing, and you cannot get it anywhere else. The chickens, fries, and sauce are key, but we have also developed a great rib program. I believe we continue to do well for those four core reasons.”

That said, the company is not afraid to go in different directions and has made some additions and improvements to its menu.

Swiss Chalet’s chief operating officer Ron Simard, joined  by franchisee Jose Terceira, truly believes when it comes to chicken in Canada, their brand is “king.”
Swiss Chalet’s chief operating officer Ron Simard, joined by franchisee Jose Terceira, truly believes when it comes to chicken in Canada, their brand is “king.”

Earlier this year, Swiss Chalet introduced several Nashville Hot Chicken-inspired items.

“Nashville Hot is a good example of being able to meet the needs of what guests are looking for as their tastes change. It was an example of ‘doing it right’ instead of doing it first,” Simard says. “We worked hard on that product, and it is something our guests tell us meets their needs.”

Menu-wise, Simard says Swiss Chalet will never rest on its laurels or reputation.

“There is a lot we continue to work on. We are not sitting back and saying “Hey, we did it—we are always challenging ourselves and seeing how we can do better.”

And “doing better” influenced the company’s decision to revitalize its packaging process, moving away from plastic containers in favour of more sustainable options.

“We looked at our delivery platform and identified an opportunity to become more responsible for our environment. So, we moved to cardboard packaging, even before the government began speaking out loud about [cutting down the use of plastics],” Simard says.

The shift was not without challenges, as Swiss Chalet was producing nearly 30 million pieces of plastic packaging each year.

“We tried to find the balance between cost and being responsible, as it was something we truly believe was the right thing to do. We have a great product, and it did not make sense to continue to put it into a plastic container,” Simard says.

These efforts to improve sustainability did not go unnoticed.

This past February, Swiss Chalet and its packaging partner, WestRock, won the PAC Global Award for Sustainable Design for its new cardboard packaging.

Franchisees are the bloodline of a successful company, and Simard notes they are looking for those “who love food and love working with people.”

“We are looking for franchisees who want to be hands-on involved in the business, greet their employees as they come to work, and their guests as they are coming into eat. The franchisees we have are engaged and proud, and it shows,” he says.

Potential franchisees will have a chance to learn about Swiss Chalet in person during the company’s annual franchise open house at its headquarters at 199 Four Valley Drive in Vaughan, Ont., on Saturday, November 5.

“Those interested will be able to meet with franchisees and representatives of the company and get more information about us and some of our products. It will be a high-level discussion about what the brand is about,” Simard says.

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