Thursday, December 15, 2011


"Eating out" habit gets ingrained with families having very little time to spend time in their kitchen and with two incomes coming from both husband and wife, these families have sufficient surplus money to go to good restaurants more frequently. Modern living style invariably places a high value for eating out with family and in many affluent countries home cooking is becoming far and few opening up opportunities for restaurateurs to set up good quality eateries with relative ambiance. It is not uncommon for people to wait for getting seats in reputed restaurants though recent recessionary atmosphere did affect the business to some extent. Evolution of food trucks into a national phenomenon in the US is making the organized catering more nervous and added to this another trend is emerging that weans away patrons from established restaurants in significant numbers. Super Markets with practically no expertise in hotel managementare reported to be considering entering the catering sector by setting up high end eating experience to increase their clientele. This is a trend with far reaching implications to the organized catering business as their regular patrons may reduce the frequency of visits drastically because of the convenience and synergy offered by the former. Here is an interesting expose on this latest trend.      

"Welcome to the age of the mash-up. Your phone has swallowed the digital camera and GPS. Your home is an office. Airplanes are Internet providers. And now, you can dine at the supermarket. It's a competitive world of blurring lines, where the most useful combo wins. Ten years ago, Whole Foods Market, Wegmans, and the Texas chain Central Market began to experiment with bringing a high-quality dining experience into their stores. At the time, the idea of eating at a supermarket was unseemly, and it often meant a smattering of tables where you might wolf down the contents of a Styrofoam clamshell. Prepared food was intended — if you had any manners — to transport home. Now in-store dining is a new market segment, no longer something you do on the sly, but a destination for families, couples in a hurry before the movies, tired shoppers who want something to eat before they hit the aisles, even the fussiest foodies. And in these waiterless situations, there are no gratuities, which contributes to attractive pricing. As new supermarkets spring up, plans invariably include kitchens run by chefs, dining facilities, and more — in-store classes (Whole Foods in Dedham has a glassed-in Wellness Club), live music, poetry slams, wine tastings (nightly at Shaw's at the Prudential Center), and full-fledged pubs (as at some Wegmans locations). Add fancy bakery cafes (like the excellent Tous Les Jours at H Mart in Burlington), throw in a bank and a post office for good measure, and there may be no reason to ever go anywhere else" 

"When the recession hit in 2008, sales of food from the aisles decreased, items per trip (known as "basket size'') stagnated, and profits fell. Supermarkets sprinted toward the on-premise dining model that other pioneers were working to perfect. "In the past 24 to 36 months, in-store dining has become heightened, as retailers realized they couldn't increase the basket size by simply lowering prices,'' explains Thom Blischok, president of SymphonyIRI Group, a retail research and consulting firm. "They began these innovations to drive in-store traffic, and change the dining experience — in quality, in atmosphere, and in variety. The ambience of a chef standing back there with the hat in a grocery store said: 'Ah! I can eat good quality food here at a good price.' '' As supermarkets evolve into these strange multi-entities, restaurants are struggling to keep up. Norm Vernadakis, a director at Big Y Markets, says the 40-seat dining area at the Walpole location has become a revenue center by winning over diners. "They're finding that our food is restaurant quality, wholesome, and you don't need to tip our people.'' His strategy is to beat the competition on both price and quality. "I don't think anybody does fish and chips better than we do,'' he says, adding wryly, "I know that will probably irritate a couple people in Boston.'' The Walpole Big Y's revenue from in-store dining rose 50 percent in 2010, he said, and another 15 percent in 2011. Crispy, tender, and served with authentic malt vinegar, the fish and chips are $7.99. Across the board, supermarket companies argue (in a way that seems almost scripted) that they can create better dishes than fast-food or fast-casual restaurants, in part because they have many aisles of fresh ingredients. And in-house chefs usually have surprising autonomy to cook what they want, catering to local tastes and leveraging talents (and ethnicities) on staff".

On the logistical side many of the existing super markets may find it difficult to establish high end restaurants within their premises but new ones can plan their ventures better for including such facilities. The Mall concept which became a standard business mode incorporates good quality eateries but it is generally not owned by the owners of the Mall and not linked to groceries business. In the past super markets used to lease out pace to fast food joints for the benefit of their customers who want to have a quick bite before or after their shopping for groceries but these food joints were more frequented by youngsters and senior citizens with not much of an expectation of a high quality food. Some of the super markets even offer on a buffet basis salads, soups etc from their Deli section and this experience may be helpful in expanding the facility further. But the new trend as being reported in countries like the US, may change the image of super markets and will provide some cushion for them in terms of dip in grocery business. A time may come when families may visit these super market restaurants for a happy eating out experience while purchase of groceries becomes secondary!  


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