OAKBROOK TERRACE, Ill. -- Your next big business idea is rarely waiting in plain sight. Rather, it’ll likely come from outside the realm of c-store foodservice, at a leading restaurant concept or on a cutting-edge college campus.
It’s with this in mind that we choose our Leaders in Foodservice award winners each year, who will be honored at next week’s FARE conference in Dallas. Meet this year’s winning operators, who should offer you a bounty of inspiration on engaging customers, focusing on the future and building craveable menus.
Serving more than 14,000 meals daily at 32 campus locations, the dining program at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., has long been a cornerstone in the evolution of campus dining. Proof: Yale Hospitality received a major accolade just last month when associate vice president Rafi Taherian was honored with the prestigious Gold Plate award from the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association.
Yale University: Capturing catering
A big lesson to learn from Yale Hospitality is its focus on catering, one of the fastest-growing profit centers of the foodservice industry. Taherian and his team have been strategically growing their on-campus catering unit, Yale Catering, with increased training and new client-relationship-management technology and methodology.
The result was sales growth from $1.5 million to $6.5 million in eight years, according to FoodServiceDirector magazine. “This is not by mandate; this is by choice,” Taherian says of the increased use of catering by campus departments and organizations. “We compete with everyone else in the marketplace.”
Mine Yale Hospitality’s catering arm for ideas to build your own program.
Sure, it's a c-store chain, but Altoona, Pa.-based Sheetz’s long-term investment in foodservice has helped change the way consumers view the entire channel. From trend-driven, quality-oriented menu development to its focus on technology to drive the guest experience, Sheetz is on the cutting edge of not just c-store foodservice, but also limited-service restaurants as a whole.
Sheetz: Fuel-free retailing
What’s the lesson to learn from Sheetz? Among many, it’s the idea of a business beyond fuel. This past year, the company further evolved what the c-store experience can be with the opening of a 15,000-square-foot location on the campus of West Virginia University (WVU). Another Sheetz Café is in the works on a raze-and-rebuild site in Indiana, Pa. The retailer will remove the entire existing building, gas pumps and underground pipes and tanks.
Check out what’s happening at the WVU store for ideas on what a store without gas could be.
A brand that magically balances both mainstream domination and cult adoration, Irvine, Calif.-based Taco Bell remains at the forefront of the restaurant industry through its thirst for innovation. Its mobile app offers an experience guests get only by using their smartphones, including preorder, prepay and complete customization.
Taco Bell: Reinvention and localization
The big idea from Taco Bell is to always be reinventing—and, in doing so, looking for ways to localize the guest experience. One of the latest moves from the brand includes four restaurant designs geared toward different markets. The “Modern Explorer” format, seen here, may be found in rural or suburban settings, while “California Sol” highlights outdoor seating for warm locales.
Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen
Irving, Texas-based Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen has shown consistent and strong growth in new stores and systemwide sales at a time when the traditional casual-dining market has been struggling. It saw 5.8% sales growth last year—compare that to competitors Applebee’s at 3.6% growth, Chili’s Grill & Bar at -0.3% and TGI Fridays at -1.9%.
Cheddar's: Slowing for quality
In the face of increased competition from fast-casual concepts and changing consumer demands, the company recently went through a major rebranding. It changed its name from Cheddar’s Casual Café to Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, and with it came an emphasis on made-to-order scratch cooking. The strategy may take more space in the kitchen, bodies on the line and time per meal, but it hits on consumers’ increasing focus on the quality of ingredients and the care with which they are used.