What Restaurants Can Learn from Convenience Stores

Changing demographics, labor expectations and design innovations are just a few factors driving a dramatic reinvention in the foodservice industry. Operators are seeking solutions, and, in 2018, automation and technology are two promising investments that deliver.

In fact, an overwhelming 95 percent of restaurant owners agree that technology improves restaurant efficiency, while 73 percent of restaurant-goers say technology improves the dining experience, according to a recent report from Toast.

As consumer expectations continue to develop – and especially as younger generations come into their own – operators must prioritize convenience, quality and value in order to compete in an increasingly complex market. In recent years, convenience stores (C-stores) have achieved great success by innovating in these three areas, setting an example that restaurant operators would do well to follow.

Lesson One: Make It Convenient

Today’s consumers are used to a high level of convenience, whether ordering products from Amazon Prime or finding the answer to a question with a quick internet search. So, it’s no surprise that delivery has quickly become one of the biggest disruptors in foodservice. The rise in popularity of third-party online food-ordering vendors that deliver, such as DoorDash and Uber Eats, continues to impact back-of-house operations; and more restaurants are partnering with delivery services to provide added convenience to consumers.

Even when shopping for food in person, consumers crave an effortless experience. The average transaction time between a shopper leaving his or her car and the same shopper leaving the store is only three to four minutes. As a result, C-stores are offering more quick-meal options to consumers, giving them a competitive edge that makes them a viable challenger to restaurants everywhere.

As today’s grab-and-go consumers search for additional ways to speed up transaction times, kitchens should segment resources to accommodate and optimize this creative, quick style of business – but not to the detriment of quality and value.

Lesson Two: Improve Quality with New Technology

In recent years, C-stores have shown incredible operational transformation in response to consumers’ desire for higher quality food options. Many have gone from offering the quick, reheatable fare of hot dogs, pizzas and sandwiches, to employing professional chefs and providing fresh, on-the-go alternatives.

The lesson for restaurants? Consumers want quality food choices. Fortunately, innovative technologies such as automated oil management systems make it easy to improve food quality while also increasing kitchen efficiency and mitigating risk.

Rutter’s Farm Stores, a C-store chain with 68-plus locations in Central Pennsylvania, recently saw significant transformation in its foodservice operations after adopting the Total Oil Management (TOM) system from Restaurant Technologies. Following a 60-day test run at three Rutter’s locations, the TOM system reduced oil usage by approximately 15 percent, according to Rutter’s. Company managers also reported significant improvements to the consistency of food quality due to daily oil filtration requirements aimed at keeping the cooking oil clean and fresh.

Lesson Three: Offer Value

As operations zoom in on quality, the added value of paring down menu options is also becoming clear. C-stores have seen tremendous success in offering condensed, affordable menus, with customizable options. Gone are the days where restaurants go overboard with expansive menus and enough meal choices to fill a book. Instead, operators are updating their menus twelve times per month on average in an effort to provide more personalized value to today’s on-the-go consumers.

This change in thinking started a few years ago with national quick-service restaurant (QSR) players McDonald’s and Burger King cutting out their salads, wraps and even smoothies. More recently, Chili’s also slashed their menu by a whopping 40 percent in an effort to get back to the classics that built their credibility. With shorter menus, restaurants are reducing the amount of food-prep time and labor. Such cost-cutting measures give foodservice operations the ability to focus on fair pricing, offer value menu items, and deliver the convenience and high-quality service that consumers seek. As sales of prepared meals continue to reach record highs and show more promise of return on investment, providers should be mindful of keeping menus light enough to give consumers more value without sacrificing convenience and quality.

Putting These Lessons to the Test

C-store foodservice operators remain optimistic in 2018. As the success seen by C-stores shows, convenience, quality and value are three key areas restaurants must focus on to stay competitive in today’s complex foodservice market. To prioritize these areas, operators may need to transform kitchen spaces and equip staff with smarter tools and solutions. Investing now is likely to pay off down the road, as consumers’ expectations continuously transform, and the foodservice market is further disrupted.