Starting a foodservice program in your convenience store requires attention to detail in store-operation areas that may be new to you.
Food preparation on site requires specific safety, operational management and cost control measures — and in most cases, greater customer service. By mastering foodservice basics, your new foodservice program has the best opportunity for success.
In order to capture “share-of-stomach,” your new foodservice program should: a) draw new customers as well as repeat customers to your c-store; b) enhance your profit margins; and c) create a point of differentiation between your c-store and your competitors. C-stores need to consider the following foodservice basics before embarking on any foodservice program:
- Role of Foodservice: Determine the role of the foodservice offering in your c-store. Will it be the driver to bring in customers? How will it be communicated in exterior signage and positioned within the store? Understanding this role in advance will help you allocate store space, staff and marketing support for your new foodservice program.
- Identify Your Customers: Will your new foodservice offer bring a different set of customers into your store, or will your existing customers be buying it up? Identifying your target customers in advance will help you position your marketing message to your customers.
- Service and/or Delivery: You need to determine what the type of foodservice you want to offer. Will you offer: a) sit-down service; b) drive-through; c) delivery within the trade area; or d) simply “grab-and-go”? The type of foodservice you offer will influence your foodservice products, equipment and c-store floor plan.
- Menus: Menu selection should be based on customer preference; competitive delineation; ease of production; inventory management; cost-effective purchasing; and equipment. Select a core group of products for your menu, and remember to keep it fresh, using seasonal and promotional menu items to create a customer “call-to-action.”
- Food Safety & Sanitation: No messing around here — following food safety and sanitation certification requirements and guidelines is a MUST. One food safety or sanitation slip-up could lead to food-borne illness among your customers, bringing a quick end to your entire c-store operation.
- Controlling Costs: Be sure to manage these big three cost components: food, paper and labor. Food, paper and labor cost controls are the lifeline of any foodservice operation. Keeping these costs in line ensures a consistent customer experience, promotes ease of training, and minimizes waste and employee theft.
- Marketing: Your new foodservice operation has you going toe-to-toe with the behemoths of the foodservice industry, such as McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut. Your marketing efforts need to focus on your local trade area to capture your core customer who relies on your store because it’s convenient!
A successful foodservice program can enhance the overall c-store experience for your customers, in addition to driving incremental traffic to your location. With a foodservice program — be it branded or proprietary — your c-store’s identity can help separate you from your competition.
John Matthews is the president and CEO of Gray Cat Enterprises, responsible for the management of all consulting activities for the firm, which include retail consulting for multiunit operations; interim executive management; and project management. Prior to founding his own company in 2004, Matthews held senior management positions as president of Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches and as vice president of marketing, merchandising, facilities, corporate communications, and real estate at Clark Retail Enterprises Inc. Additionally, Matthews worked for nine years in marketing management as the national marketing director of the Little Caesars Pizza Corp.