Shaking Up the Fast Food Industry: Innovation, Digitization, and a People-First Culture


Serving the same standard iterations of burgers, fries, and sodas, most fast food restaurants aren’t exactly known for their innovation — but Shake Shack is different. Between new digital channels, top-tier customer service, and out-of-the-box menu offerings, Shake Shack is changing the way restaurants deliver value. 

That even extended through the COVID-19 crisis. While the pandemic posed challenges for nearly all consumer brands, Shake Shack took it as a unique opportunity to expand its digital channels and gain new loyal customers. 

To hear more about Shake Shack’s innovation and future plans, we spoke with CFO Katherine Fogertey on a recent episode of the ICR podcast, Welcome to the Arena. Fogertey shared insights into the company’s innovation, digitization, and a people-first culture.  

Leveraging Digitization to Provide a Better Guest Experience

In a recent quarterly report, Shake Shack revealed that 42% of sales happen in digital channels — a significant increase from before the pandemic. That is a result of Shake Shack’s recent website revamp and expansion of its digital platform. Within the app, users can order food and select from multiple ways to retrieve it, whether from a pickup shelf inside the restaurant or a drive-up window. 

Shake Shack aims to use digital channels to provide personalized experiences to every user. “The way that we’re looking at leveraging digital is not just having a database to track and see our users,” Fogertey explains. “It’s actually to engage with them on a very personal level.” 

While it can be hard to justify the initial investment required for digitization, Shake Shack clearly sees ROI from the digital channels. “We know that once we get a guest into our digital channels … they spend more with us. They’re more loyal. They come more frequently,” Fogertey says. “And we’re able to engage with them on a much more personal level. That is a key cornerstone to building our long-term business.”

Valuing People Above All 

Being a people-centric business isn’t only about the customers; Shake Shack equally prioritizes its internal culture. “People are central to all that we do,” says Fogertey. “We want everybody who joins our team, from the hourly to the most senior, to really feel like they can grow their career here at Shake Shack.”

Through its Shift Up program, Shake Shack gives hourly workers the opportunity to receive professional development training and put them on a career trajectory toward a management position. In addition, the company recently announced a $10 million investment in its team members, which funded increased wages as well as signing and retention bonuses.   

Driving Engagement Through Menu Innovation 

At Shake Shack, menu innovation comes in several different flavors. First, as part of its goal to provide a personal experience, the company allows guests to customize their meals with premium toppings, like avocado, bacon, or shallots. 

“This sounds kind of small in the grand scheme of things, but it’s actually hugely important to providing our guests with the custom burger that they love,” Fogertey explains. 

Shake Shack also innovates through special limited-time offerings, like black truffle fries or bourbon bacon burgers. Sometimes, to encourage user engagement on the Shake Shack app, the company initially releases those menu items exclusively through the app.  

Moving forward, Shake Shack has big plans — both to open new restaurants and invest in the long term by building out an even bigger digital ecosystem. Learning and monitoring where investments are having the most impact equips Shake Shack with the tools it needs to continue growing the brand and maximizing its success. For more insights, listen to the full podcast episode.