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Shuckin’ Shack has won the hearts of customers, building a loyal following of people who appreciate the brand’s authentic identity and dedication to good hospitality. While other concepts are bending over backwards to integrate newfangled AI systems into their restaurants, Shuckin’ Shack remains focused on giving the customer an enjoyable, sociable experience and has built a sense of community as a result. 1851 Franchise spoke with CEO Jonathan Weathington along with Vice President of Marketing and Creative Darren Keeler about the brand’s plans to continue prioritizing the customer experience above all else by treating people well, keeping technology behind the scenes and finding ways to give back to the community. Weathington believes that dining out appeals to people because it allows them to be served good food in a pleasant environment. To him, providing the experience customers crave comes down to simple hospitality. 
“It’s pretty simple,” said Weathington. “At the heart of it all, hospitality is based on treating people well and giving them what they want. That’s what we aim to do.” Shuckin’ Shack plans to treat people well by interacting with them and staying true to the brand’s authentic, genuine identity that has excelled at building a sense of community among its customers. The brand has found success in providing a hospitable environment by focusing on making the customers happy. How exactly have they discovered the secret to the customers’ happiness? Simply by asking them. “We’re not using an unbelievable amount of technology to study customer habits. We’re actually talking to them and responding accordingly,” said Weathington. Shuckin’ Shack knows technology is important and helpful in any business. But while other restaurant concepts are focused on streamlining processes and appealing to the tech-savvy nature of their customer base with QR code menus, AI voice ordering and so on, Shuckin’ Shack prefers to keep the tech in the back of house and keep the dining experience human.  “I think technology should be behind the scenes and so we don’t have any sort of plans to replace front of the house staff with AI,” said Weathington. “Keeping the dining-out experience personal is pretty simple.”  Weathington acknowledged that data from AI systems can be helpful, but that anecdotal data from a real life customer base is also incredibly important. Technology should complement, not replace, human interaction. In fact, he can’t believe how many big brands are turning a blind eye to the importance of personal interaction when their businesses were built on these principles. “It’s bizarre to me that iconic brands that have been built on great hospitality for 10, 20, 30 or 50 years are now choosing to stick an oar in the water and reverse direction by taking that customer interaction away or acting as though it doesn’t really matter all that much anymore,” he explained.  With technology remaining behind the scenes, Shuckin’ Shack is keeping its authentic culture strong in the front of the house.  “A lot of brands claim to be authentic. They just say it over and over again, but it never shows in the way that they operate. At Shuckin’ Shack, we truly are authentic. We talk to every single customer. We have genuine conversations,” said Keeler.
But do these genuine conversations actually lead to a great customer experience? Well, given that the brand has hosted multiple weddings for loyal customers who adore the brand, the answer has to be yes.  “We just had a couple get married at our Surf City Shuckin’ Shack. It was right before the St. Patrick’s Day party, so there were bagpipes and everything. That doesn’t happen with a brand that doesn’t come across as authentic and genuine with its customers. That’s our second wedding at a Shuckin’ Shack this quarter,” said Keeler.  A wedding at an oyster bar may seem unusual, but when the oyster bar has built such a strong sense of community, it makes sense. Keeler explained that the first wedding hosted by one of the brand’s locations earlier this quarter took place when the local courthouse in Frederick, Maryland, closed for a snowstorm. The couple knew one of the owners was an officiant, so they called him up and he opened the Shuckin’ Shack doors to them, where they got married and had a celebration.  The heartwarming interactions between the brand and the community extend far beyond dining out and hosting weddings, however. Shuckin’ Shack does what it can to give back, involving the community in its efforts. “Our Fresh and Raw Tour is an event we do to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society for example, and our Frederick location did a massive St. Patrick’s Day party this year, where they raised money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. They raised $8,000 in one day,” said Keeler. By creating these opportunities for community involvement, Shuckin’ Shack is giving its customers a chance to be a part of something special. In an era where hospitality can sometimes feel impersonal, Shuckin’ Shack serves up old fashioned authenticity, reminding us that the most memorable experiences are often the simplest ones. From hosting impromptu weddings to raising thousands of dollars for charitable causes, the brand’s genuine connections with its customers have created a sense of belonging that simply cannot be replicated by technology, no matter how advanced. Credit: Written by 1851 Franchise Staff Writer, Erica Inman