Consuming Thoughts

Plenty of ideas from the QSR, fast-casual playbooks are there for the stealing.

By  Amanda Baltazar, Freelance writer

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Combo Meals

McDonald’s and Burger King are perhaps the original masters of the combo meal, but even smaller chains now use this formula. Chicago-based Wow Bao’s combo meals run $6.19 to $8.29. “People like them for value perception and believe they’re getting more options,” says Geoff Alexander, president. “It’s all about speed and price points.”

“McDonald’s has taught us to order by number,” says Gregg Rapp, restaurant engineer for Menu Technologies in Palm Springs, Calif. “Numbers also make it easier for people to remember [what they like] and to get someone else to order for them.”

And combo meals usually lead to higher sales, because consumers typically add items to them. Ideally, he says, select a top-selling menu item, then include two other—usually less popular—items in a combo with it. “The simpler it is, the better,” he says.

But the real benefit of combo meals is that customers can get in and out fast, says Johnson of Foodservice Solutions: “And if you can speed up service, that’s a perceived value.”

Steal This Idea: Bundle food items with a drink and give it a name or a number. Your customers will appreciate that you’re making life easier for them and you’ll probably see some incremental sales.

Local Food

Local food is prominent in many consumers’ minds these days, and many fast-food and limited-serve restaurants are capitalizing on that. Vancouver, Wash.-based Burgerville is a pro when it comes to local, sourcing mostly from Washington, Oregon and California, while Tender Greens in Los Angeles has a number of partnerships with local ranchers and purveyors. 

Serving local food can be a great way for convenience stores to differentiate themselves, says Johnson. “It gives you depth of story,” he says, “so include farmer information, a picture or even a date picked or harvested.”

It’s also a good idea to bring in providers of local foods from time to time, he says, “because it offers authenticity and tells that story.”

Offering local foods illustrates that you’re not serving commodity items, says Rapp: “They have better value so people feel they’re getting a better price.”

But offering local foods is difficult, due to sourcing, distribution and delivery. An easier move is to highlight some local ingredients, says Gallo-Torres. “If just one ingredient is local, call it out and show consumers you’re trying to do something, which can change the perception of the whole meal,” she says.

Steal This Idea: Going local is a big undertaking, so emphasize one or two items on your foodservice menu to show that you’re on the pulse of this trend.

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