INDIANAPOLIS — The experience of eating at Steak 'n Shake is about to change.
Sardar Biglari, CEO and chairman of Biglari Holdings, wrote to investors that the steakburgers and milkshakes chain is "in an era of radical transformation."
Steak 'n Shake will eliminate table service and transform to a quick-service restaurant model. Most of the chain's 556 dining rooms have been closed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and Biglari wrote the company will spend $100,000-$200,000 to remodel and equip each restaurant with self-service kiosks.
"What will be most evident to our returning patrons is that instead of ordering at the table, or even at a counter with an attendant, our guests will now initiate their transaction at a kiosk," Biglari wrote. "We are embracing efficiency and transitioning the service model to empower our guests to place and pick up their own orders."
The change became necessary because food preparation took too long under the old model and paying wait staff was too expensive, according to Biglari's letter.
"Simply put, the operation of dining rooms with table service was a money loser," he wrote.
The restaurant industry has suffered throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and Steak 'n Shake was no exception. In May 2020, the Indianapolis-based chain announced it was permanently closing 57 restaurants around the country as revenue plunged by $59 million compared to the first quarter of 2019.
Bloomberg reported in February that Steak 'n Shake repaid the balance of a $220 million loan that was due this month and avoided bankruptcy.
With its dining rooms closed, Steak 'n Shake has relied on drive-thru, delivery and takeout during the pandemic. Biglari wrote the chain saw a 14.3% increase in off-premises sales last year.
He said the company planned to convert Steak 'n Shake restaurants to a self-service model before the pandemic and the past year "hastened the inevitable."
"The modernization centers on achieving simplicity and speed in the way Steak n' Shake’s products are made and the way they are delivered to guests — without a diminution of quality," Biglari wrote.