Consuming Thoughts

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

Amanda Baltazar, Freelance writer

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Smaller Portions

White Castle’s been doing it for decades: offering small portions of regular food. And now other fast-food feeders are jumping on the bandwagon, such as McDonald’s and KFC, which are offering snacks such as, respectively, Snack Wraps and Chicken Littles mini sandwiches.

Wow Bao is a master of the art of small. Its signature menu item, the bao (Asian street food), is a soft, sweet dough with meat, vegetables or something sweet inside. The chain sells them individually for $1.69 apiece or as a combo (two and a side).

“Everyone is mobile so you need something portable and easy to eat,” says Alexander of Wow Bao. “And I think a lot of people are eating in smaller portions for dietary reasons and a lot of people want to snack and pick. The more people can choose, they more they love it.”

This mixing and matching ability is ideal, says Abbott, because “no one wants to commit to anything any more.” These small portions also allow the consumer to be in charge and in control, she says.

“We are trying to cobble together snacks that mimic what meals are like, which allows us to continue to graze throughout the day,” she says.

Steal This Idea: Offer some small portions, but make sure there’s a nutritious component in there so customers can treat them as a meal or a snack.

Gluten-Free Options

According to The NPD Group, around a third of us are now cutting back, or down, on eating gluten, so much so that even pizza chains such as Domino’s and Russo’s New York Pizzeria are offering pizza crusts with no gluten.

Boston’s Restaurant & Sports Bar became aware of the gluten-free trend about six years ago. And learning that just one or two grains can knock a celiac sufferer down for the day made the chain realize the enormity—and difficulty— of going gluten-free and how important it was that it didn’t cross-contaminate anything.

“So we decided to focus on the pizza, and we isolate the ingredients, even down to the knife,” Bill Hancox says. The chain has even painted the outside of the gluten-free pizza pans with fluorescent paint so they’re not used for anything else, and they are stored separately.

The concept also brings in a gluten-free brownie, ice cream and beer, all of which are prepackaged “so we can focus on the pizzas,” he says.

Going gluten-free has been a challenge for Moe’s, says Macaluso. Because of the issues with cross-contamination, Moe’s doesn’t offer a gluten-free environment, but its ingredients are friendly to those who are gluten-intolerant. “We can make a meal and all the individual ingredients don’t have gluten in them. But there could be traces on a spoon, so we are very careful not to say we are gluten-free,” Macaluso says. “There is still gluten in the air because of our tortillas.”

Going gluten-free is not easy, especially for a convenience store with a small kitchen, and/or whose sole focus is not foodservice, says Gallo-Torres of Mintel.

One idea she points to is Chuck E. Cheese’s. The Irving, Texas-basec chain offers an externally made pizza that’s cooked and served in a bag with a special set of scissors. It also has a gluten-free brownie that’s served in a bag. “This protects both the consumer and the operator,” she says.

Steal This Idea: Offer some prepackaged heat-and-serve gluten-free items to ensure you’re not contaminating food for sensitive individuals.

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