Hot Tips & Takes: Shawn Lalehzarian of The Red Chickz Talks TikTok Success

Meet Shawn Lalehzarian, founder of The Red Chickz.

Shawn founded his LA-based Nashville hot chicken concept in 2018. Before that, he spent 20 years in hospitality and helped to operate or launch more than 80 restaurants in the U.S. and Canada.

After three years of growth, The Red Chickz recently announced its plans to franchise. The brand’s success has been driven — at least in part — by the splash it’s made on social media. The Red Chickz is nothing of short of a TikTok sensation, with almost 900,000 followers and 17.6 million likes (and counting!).

Shawn recently sat down with Kickfin to talk about the concept, their franchising push, and of course, their rapid rise to TikTok stardom. Plus: he shared his top tips for other restaurant teams looking to achieve social media success.

First things first: How did The Red Chickz get its start?

We did a lot of market research. Nashville hot chicken was already popular, but there wasn’t a hot chicken concept in downtown LA back in 2017/2018. We felt it was the right move at the right time, but we wanted to do it authentically.

So my team and I flew to Nashville for two weeks. We asked everyone — from our Uber drivers to our hotel bellmen to the people we went out with — if they knew anyone who knew how to make hot chicken. A few folks introduced us to family members with their own homemade recipes, so we got to see different versions of it.

It turned out that one of our Uber drivers had a cousin who actually owned a hot chicken restaurant, and we spent the whole day there. Back of house, front of house. They taught us everything from scratch.

We brought what we learned back to LA, added our own touch to make it really unique, and opened in December 2018. We’ve got one location downtown and another under construction in Culver City.

What are your franchising goals?

We always knew we’d expand the concept, but franchising wasn’t originally part of the conversation. We envisioned opening 10-20 locations ourselves, so everything we did from the start, we did it in a way that would be scalable and easy to replicate.

But there was a particular review that sparked this idea to franchise. This guy compared our concept to a large fast-food chain (which will remain nameless here) — and I’m sure he didn’t mean it in the nicest way. That part made me laugh, but then it got me thinking: what if we really did become a giant in the industry?

And now, here we are. Our goal is to go nationwide. We’re starting now with four states: California, Nevada, Arizona and Texas. Then we’ll continue to expand our territory.

Now, for what everyone’s dying to know: Tell us about your rise to social media stardom.

The Red Chickz started out on Instagram like everyone else, and we also joined TikTok. It was relatively early for that platform — in 2018/2019, TikTok wasn’t nearly as popular as it is today.

It took us 6-8 months to get to about 15,000 TikTok followers. Then once we hit 17,000, it just went crazy. If I’m not mistaken, we’re still gaining about 10,000-15,000 followers a week. Our Instagram does well too, but TikTok has completely taken off.

How did you decide that social media would be a key channel for the brand?

I’ve been in the restaurant business for a long time, and I’ve learned a lot about marketing. We knew with the kind of expansion we had in mind, old-school marketing wouldn’t give us the growth we were looking for.

We needed to get in front of people, and we believed that digital marketing — specifically, social media — was the key to getting our product out there fast. You don’t have to wait for print, you don’t have to wait for approvals. It’s immediate.

Why do you think you’ve gotten so…TikTok famous?

From the beginning, we had a dedicated social media team. Throughout the years, I’ve learned that in this industry, if you want something done right, you have to invest in people who have the talent for it. I can’t do everything by myself, or even with two or three people. You need the talent and the team to take it to the next level.

Our success also has everything to do with quality of content. Anyone can grab a phone and shoot a video, but it takes a lot more thought to build content people will actually engage with. What you’re shooting, the angle you choose, the length of the post — it all matters.

How do you decide what you’ll post, and what’s the process for getting content out the door?

If you look at our account, our content is pretty much all about what we do and what we serve. Our team is really talented as far as how they capture it and put it together. We’re at the stage right now where pretty much everything we put out is a hit. The amount of love we get from TikTok is really amazing.

With that being said, there’s strategy behind everything we do. We’ve got weekly or biweekly meetings with our marketing and social media teams where we decide what we’re going to be putting out there. While I’m not producing the content myself, I’m absolutely a part of it. I brainstorm, I bring crazy ideas to the table.

I don’t approve every piece of content that goes out — I want my team to stay creative and use their talent — but I do think it’s important to have everyone involved, so we’re working together to deliver a consistent message to the world.

How do you deal with negative comments?

I check our social accounts and review sites on a daily basis, and fortunately, we don’t get a ton of negative comments. But we do get some. With almost 900,000 followers, the expectation is that not everyone will like everything you post, and that’s fine.

When you get thousands of comments every day — good or bad — it’s impossible to respond to everyone. But it’s interesting: As we’ve spent time monitoring comments, we’ve found that our fans are very vocal, and they’ll take it upon themselves to respond to negative commenters. We don’t even really need to get involved. Our fans will say how good the food is, they’ll start a conversation.

Of course, if there’s ever a major issue — if someone DMs us or brings something concerning to our attention — we’d respond and take care of it, no questions asked. But on a day-to-day basis, we’ve found we can just leave it to our fans. They’ll share their thoughts and feelings, and it will actually feel more authentic coming from them.

Do you think your TikTok fame has directly contributed to the success of the business?

Definitely. Every day, we get people coming in the restaurant and telling us that it’s their first time, that they saw us on TikTok and just had to try it out. We’ll get a family who says their kids dragged them in after following us on social media.

It’s mostly locals, but about once a week, we’ll get someone in who tells us they drove from Phoenix, or Vegas, or San Jose — they’ve got no business in LA, they just wanted to try the food after seeing it on TikTok.

The Red Chickz has established a strong, cohesive brand. How does good branding play into social media performance?

I’ve come to the conclusion that with any concept or restaurant you create, it’s like you’re creating a human. You need to figure out who this person is. Describe your brand as you would a friend: What do they wear? What’s their personality? Where do they hang out? What car do they drive?

That can inform 90% of what you need to build out everything else: how you design the store, the menu, the logo; how you market it; where you take it.

For The Red Chickz, the brand is loud and exciting and fun — but there’s some sophistication to it, too. That all plays out across all of our channels and keeps it really consistent.

As you move to a franchise model, how do you see that impacting your social strategy?

Franchisees won’t be creating social accounts for their locations because we want to keep everything uniform.

But with that being said, we definitely want our franchisees to be involved and to contribute content. We’ll have guidelines they’ll follow as they produce it, and then they’ll pass everything along to our social media team. We’ll distribute everything through our single corporate page.

That way, all of our franchisees and locations are well represented, but we’re ensuring our standards are maintained and the overall brand isn’t changed or diluted.

What advice would you give to other restaurant teams that want to “go viral”?

Always be thinking ahead. Things change so fast. What’s the next trend? What’s the next big idea? How crazy can we get?

But above all, The Red Chickz has a very creative team that knows exactly what they’re doing, and we trust them. That’s what I’d tell anyone else: Find someone who has the talent for it and let them do their magic.

 

Interested in learning more about franchising with The Red Chickz? Email franchise@theredchickz.com.

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We know how important same-day payments are for veterans of the service industry who are accustomed to quick cash — and we’re now seeing that same demand expand into other industries as well. 

Kickfin co-founder Justin Roberts joined MasterCard’s InConversation Webinar series to discuss why immediate payment disbursal is key for the restaurant industry and the gig economy as a whole.

Watch the webinar here or read our recap for the highlights: 

People live paycheck-to-paycheck

Not just some people are living paycheck to paycheck. Most people are. 

That’s right: around 64% of U.S. consumers are just getting by. Even more shocking, 51% of consumers who earn over six figures are still living paycheck to paycheck, despite their higher tax bracket. 

It’s a major reason why employees need access to their earnings sooner rather than later. The pressure of watching your bank account slowly drain in the two weeks between payday is putting a lot of pressure on people, leading to a much greater demand for instant payments than ever before. 

Instant payouts are now table stakes

A PYMNTS study found that people of all ages prefer to be paid out immediately, as well as some other interesting statistics:

  • When given the choice, 68% of respondents said they would opt for an instant pay out
  • 40% of gig workers surveyed were willing to pay a fee for an instant disbursement
  • 81% of respondents were willing to switch jobs to an employer that offers instant access to earned wages and tips

It’s safe to say instant payouts are becoming the expectation for today’s modern workforce. But not all instant payouts are created equal.

Consumers are much more likely to engage with an instant payout system if they aren’t required to share their bank account and routing numbers and can access funds with just their debit card credentials. Why? It’s faster, more convenient, and feels more secure. 

Instant payouts and tip management: a perfect use case.

Instant payout innovation has come at the perfect time for the restaurant industry, which is struggling more than ever with the hassles and cost of cash.

If you’re in the restaurant biz, then you know: Most consumers pay with credit cards these days, not cash. That means there’s rarely enough cash on hand to pay out tips at the end of a shift. But employees still want and need instant access to their tip earnings.

Enter: instant payouts. Offering employees the option to receive their tip earnings directly to their bank of choice, the second their shift ends, can go a long way in improving employee satisfaction and ensuring their financial security.

But instant payouts are more than a work perk for employees. The operational benefits for employers range from reduced administrative burden and significant time savings to stronger compliance and streamlined reporting.

Modernizing your tip management strategy: 5 best practices 

There are three key components to your tip management strategy: 

  • Tip pool policy: How are you divvying up tips among your staff? 
  • The payout method: How are you distributing those payments?
  • The systems and tech: What are you using to facilitate those payments?

Under the current circumstances, restaurant operators are under immense pressure to bring their tip management into the future. 

5 best practices for tip management 

Based on our experience working with restaurant operators across the country, we’ve found that these five practices are the perfect recipe for building a successful tip management system.  

  1. Determine the right model and method for your restaurant, based on your location and tech stack
  2. Get a written tip policy (and get it legally approved
  3. Solicit employee feedback in a structured way
  4. Leverage technology for efficiency, accuracy, and compliance
  5. Don’t over-complicate (but do over-communicate!)

Tip management solution must-haves

When seeking a new tip management solution, make sure you carefully vet each system to see if it really meets your needs, or if it’ll be just as frustrating as cash. Here are a few suggestions for what should be on your checklist: 

  • Instant payouts
  • Direct to bank of choice
  • Availability of employee funds
  • Payroll option 
  • Integrations 
  • Simple implementation + onboarding process 
  • Around-the-clock customer service 

Big emphasis on strong customer support teams. Restaurants and bars don’t have “typical” business hours, so neither should your tech support.

Bar Louie automates payouts with Kickfin 

In a recent case study, we took a deep dive into our partnership with Bar Louie, a chain with over 60 locations that took advantage of our new integration with Toast. They made the switch from cash payouts to Kickfin’s instant, direct-to-bank payouts and haven’t looked back.  

Two-minute tip-outs

Before Kickfin, managers spent an average of 45 minutes per shift working through Bar Louie’s complex tip out policy and counting cash. The tip pooling rules were important to them — it’s what makes the entire staff feel like they’re getting their fair share. 

Using the Kickfin0Toast integration, Bar Louie was able to automate the tip pool calculation process and send tips straight to employees in under two minutes – a potential annual savings of 15,000 labor hours across all locations.

>> See more customer success stories 

Do you want to see these kinds of cost-saving results at your business? Let’s talk. Get a demo of Kickfin and see why restaurant owners and employees alike trust us to manage their tips.

Kickfin’s best-in-class tip calculation tool has some exciting new bells and whistles.

If you’re already using Kickfin’s tip pool calculator, then you know how much time and hassle you’re saving by automating everything. (And if you’re not? Head over to our tip pooling software page to see how it works!)

As we partner with more restaurants to bring their tip management into the future, we’re continuing to innovate our product so we can address their biggest pain points.

In this case, that means enhancing our tip pooling features so you can auto-calculate tip amounts even for the most complex or unique tip pool or share policies.

Check out a few of our latest features that will make tip calculations easier than ever.

New Release: Splitting Large Party Tips 

If your restaurant often hosts large parties, you know that the tip share can get confusing. Say one server is taking care of a party of 40 with a bartender assigned to only make drinks for that party. Meanwhile, the server has a few other two-top tables that are getting drinks from the main service bar. At the end of the night, how do you ensure that the large-party bartender gets their fair share of the tip out (without spending an hour on your phone calculator)? 

Kickfin can now automate that process for you, alleviating questions from your event bartender and saving time and effort on the part of your managers. 

Seamless Integrations 

Kickfin is partnering with your POS system to integrate seamlessly with your existing restaurant tech. Already, we’re serving Toast customers through our integration — and your POS just might be up next. 

Kickfin integration users get access to new product features first, like our new tip-out transparency tool. Your employees can log into their Kickfin accounts and see exactly how their tips have been split between team members, offering them full transparency into your tip policy in action.

Manager Tips 

We’re always listening to feedback to improve the Kickfin experience, and this one goes out to all of our restaurant partners who asked us to streamline the manager tip reallocation process.

>>Learn more about managers & tipping laws

In most cases, managers are not allowed to earn tips since they are salaried employees. But we all know that managers often step in and take care of tables to help servers get out of the weeds. Well-meaning guests will most likely leave a tip, not knowing that the manager technically can’t accept them — so where does that money go?

Kickfin now features a default pool, where tips “paid” to a manager are automatically redistributed to tipped staff based on your restaurant’s tip policy. 

Improved Labor Data Accuracy

We all know how easy it is for an employee to forget to clock out after a long shift. And sure, they aren’t going to get paid for a 16-hour overnight shift, but when payday comes around, those extra hours create a nightmare for your payroll team. 

With Kickfin, all employees are required to be clocked out in order to finalize payments — so you’ll catch the labor data mistake long before your payroll team has to sort it out. 

Even Better Security 

We’re committed to protecting you and your employees’ hard-earned money, so we’re adding an extra layer of security for certain transactions. You can now enable double approval of payments that meet certain conditions:

  • First payment for new employees
  • Employees getting their first payout in X number of days
  • Employees receiving more than X payouts in a 24-hour period. 

With these extra guardrails in place, you can always be sure that the right money is going to the right person. Reach out to our support team to configure your custom security measures.

Using Kickfin is a win-win for operators, managers, and employees alike. Restaurateurs save on cash delivery and labor costs, managers shave hours off their workload, and servers have the same instant payment that they’re used to — without the hassle and uncertainty of cash. 

Want to learn more about Kickfin? Let us show you the ropes with a demo

You heard it here first: 2024 is the year of integrations. 

In an effort to make Kickfin even more user-friendly and adaptable for our partners, we’re working with restaurant tech leaders to integrate our tip management solution with their existing systems. 

First up — Toast! A trailblazer for cloud-based restaurant management technology, Toast is a favorite POS system for restaurants, food trucks, and bars. You probably know them best for being the first to create handheld POS devices, drastically changing the entire restaurant ecosystem. To make life easier for their customers, Toast partnered with Kickfin to create an integration that makes tip pooling, tip distribution, and calculation smoother. 

As restaurant tech innovators ourselves, this partnership is the perfect fit for Kickfin. 

Our goal at Kickfin is always to save time for managers, prevent loss for operators, and create more financial freedom for hospitality employees through pioneering technology that digitizes many of the analog processes that the restaurant industry is built on. 

As a member of the Toast Partner Ecosystem, we’ll be able to deliver our product to Toast customers and modernize their tip management systems with ease. Using technology that they’re already familiar with, Toast customers can reap the benefits of Kickfin with minimal ramp-up upon implementation.

“No two restaurants split tips the same way, but invariably, it takes too long and involves too much risk,”  said Justin Roberts, the co-CEO of Kickfin. “This integration allows for the utmost customization with a near-zero learning curve — truly the best of both worlds for restaurants that want to save time, reduce labor costs and make life easier for their team.”

And one of their partners is already enjoying the ROI with Kickfin. Bar Louie takes great pride in making tip distribution equitable for all of their employees, so they rely on a complex tip pooling system to ensure fair pay. Prior to using Kickfin, managers at each of their 60 locations spent 45 minutes at the end of every shift to make calculations and divvy out funds to all of their servers. Now, they’ve streamlined their tip-out process with Kickfin — and managers are doing the same work in less than a minute! That’s an annual average of 15,000 hours saved across their entire chain. 

>> Hear more Kickfin success stories

After implementing Kickfin, managers can spend their time on what matters most: delivering excellent customer service. That means more table touches, more support for your staff, and more time to focus on server training. 

With managers spending more time on the floor (instead of counting cash in the back), you’ll see better customer reviews, better service, and increased sales — all from digitizing your tip-outs with Kickfin.

We’re excited about our new partnership with Toast and the opportunity to make digital tipping a reality for their customers. For restaurants who aren’t using Toast, don’t worry! We look forward to providing similar integrations across the restaurant tech industry.  

Want to see these results for yourself? Find out how to become a Kickfin integration partner or check out a demo of our platform.

No growing pains here! 

We’re thrilled to announce that Inc. listed Kickfin in their list of the top 10 fastest growing companies in the Southwest. (In fact, we earned the #1 spot in the software category and were listed as #9 overall!) We’re honored to be included alongside innovative companies that are making a big difference in our region. 

Inc. measured Kickfin’s growth from 2020 to 2022 — which wasn’t an easy time for the restaurant industry, to say the least. In spite of the challenges posed by the pandemic, restaurant concepts across the country embraced Kickfin’s technology. 

As a group, the 2024 Inc. honorees averaged 136% growth and created 17,606 new jobs over a two-year period. Individually, Kickfin grew by a whopping 1,304% (yes, really!).

We want to recognize and thank both our amazing customers and the Kickfin team for being part of our success story and allowing us to be a part of theirs. 

Our Customers

For years, restaurants manually calculated and paid out cash tips — despite the increasing hassle and liability those old-school methods entail. It’s not because operators are tech-averse; there simply wasn’t a good way to automate the process that didn’t create new friction or require new workarounds. 

That’s precisely why we developed Kickfin. Of course, we’re proud of what we built and the team behind it (more on that below). But we owe a great deal of our success to the customers who trusted us enough to give Kickfin a shot — especially those early adopters who are now some of our longest-standing customers.

There’s a leap of faith involved when you partner with a vendor and layer in new technology, particularly when it impacts something as important and sensitive as how you pay your people.  We don’t take that lightly, and we are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to serve each and every customer who’s been on this journey with us.

>> Hear from our customers about their experiences with Kickfin

Our Team 

Every person on our team wholeheartedly believes in our mission and vision for the future. In short: we’re here to make the tip management process insanely easy for everyone so that paying out your people is (almost!) as great as getting paid. 

As backstory: Our co-founders, Brian and Justin, came up with the idea for Kickfin while dining out together and noticing that an armored car was dropping off cash. They asked why a restaurant would need a cash delivery when most patrons pay by card; the manager explained the cash was needed to pay out tips at the end of the shift. The inefficiency (and expense, and risk…) of that process was a lightbulb moment for Brian and Justin.

They set out to build a team who not only understood the problem, but could think critically and creatively about a solution — and bring it to life. 

From sales and marketing to product and support, every Kickfin employee has had a hand in the growth and success of our company, thanks to their passion for our purpose and their commitment to being best in class.

We’re proud of what we’ve achieved thus far, and we’re excited to continue collaborating with our customers, innovating on their behalf, and taking Kickfin to the next level together. Onward and upward!

See Kickfin in action!