Foodservice Equipment: Foodservice and the Art of Industrial Engineering

Eight steps to optimize your operation’s store design, labor and menu

You may have read recent numbers from The NPD Group that showed c-store visits declined in the fourth quarter of 2013. You can blame it on the polar vortex, but instead of making excuses, I suggest that c-stores use such news as a rallying battle cry and motivation to go after a larger share of stomach.

There is no doubt in my mind that c-stores can compete well with restaurants and beat them at their own game. And the market has taken notice. A recent report by Sandelman & Associates on the top 25 insights over the past 25 years in foodservice includes Sheetz, which in its stronger markets has been able to achieve as many as one in 20 QSR lunch occasions.

And a recent study from Technomic mentions that more than half of consumers say they have purchased prepared foods from c-stores. That is not to be scoffed at. The study also found that consumers would visit c-stores more often if freshness and quality, along with décor and atmosphere, were improved.

The best way to steal share of stomach from restaurants is to make it easier for your employees to deliver the brand by optimizing all the operating and investment parameters. If you take an “employee-centric” approach to design and make it easier for your employees to deliver the customer experience, sales and profits will follow.

What follows are eight steps to help increase your share of restaurant visits by optimizing your design, labor and menu.

Step One: Develop an MTO Offering

Just the fact that you are assembling products to order will raise the quality perception of your foodservice program. Over the past decade, fast casual has been the most successful segment in the restaurant industry. Inherent in this segment is assembling items to order. This may or may not include cooking or finishing items to order; that depends on the concept’s level of service.

The pizza segment is the latest to adopt the made-to-order operational style. A large number of fast-casual pizza concepts are expanding across the country—all touting bake times of 5 minutes or less.

Step Two: Open Up the Production Area

In addition to making the concept pure and real in the eyes of customers, this step is almost a must with today’s consumer—especially millennials. Visual production is a trend that is here to stay. Take a quick look in the marketplace and notice the number of concepts that have opened up their assembly lines.

Fast-casual success story Chipotle, for example, does not cook any food to order, but a kitchen serves as the backdrop to the prep table, with employees sautéing aromatic meats just steps from the ordering line.

Step Three: Mind Your Grab and Go

Make sure that you are conveying freshness in your hot and cold grab-and-go offerings. The way to do this is not only to communicate that the product is made fresh through effective signage, but also show the customers that you are actually producing it right there in an open kitchen.

Open kitchens can be a scary proposition for some, because it converts that back of house to a middle of house, creating some customer sight challenges. But like it or not, this is a strong way to drive a higher level of freshness perception for the grab-and-go offering for those consumers who are pressed for time but still want to be assured your product is fresh.