Food Service & Concessions:
Give Branded Food a Chance

During Hard Times, Consumers Look for Value and Familiarity

By Liz Smethurst

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iven the current economic climate, when many business are trying to boost, or even maintain, their revenue streams, now may be a good time to reconsider your food-service offerings. These days, consumers are increasingly looking for value and familiarity in exchange for their hard-earned dollar, now even more so, especially when doom and gloom are constantly forecast for the financial horizon.

Any revamp of your food offerings should include the careful consideration of adding a branded quick-service concept. A branded concept offers your visitors, guests and even employees snack and meal options from a source they can recognize and rely on. With so many concepts available, it is important that you determine exactly what will work best for you.

Ask yourself if you are looking to make a positive impact on your bottom line. Are patrons turning their noses up at the rows of rotating hot dogs and machine-dispensed nacho cheese? Are they clamoring for healthier options? If you answered yes to any of those questions, a branded fast-food concept may be exactly what is needed to keep your customers satisfied.

The brands on anyone's short list should be ones that are trusted and able to show a proven track record. For instance, look for a brand with plenty of locations—and one that is not shuttering units, but expanding its operations.

Do your homework. Not only should you speak with representatives from the brands that you are considering, but also speak with the individuals who run their locations. Find out if the franchisees are happy with their decision to be part of that brand. Is there dissension among the ranks? Is the corporate office responsive to their needs, and how much say do the franchisees have? What types of support, training and communications systems do the brands have in place? Also, does one always have to deal with the corporate office, or is there local representation available to help when needed or to speed things along?

With the economy the way it is, customers are especially sensitive to value for the dollar and expect to receive exceptional service. Your research should be able to tell you which brands are excelling in those areas.

Another aspect of branded fast food that you should consider is nutrition. With obesity at alarming rates and generating more outcries from consumer groups and government officials for healthier options, a brand that would make any A-list is one that has a reputation for providing healthier options. Look for a brand that offers snack and meal options that are lower in fat and meet nutrition guidelines for a healthier lifestyle.

Also, give extra points to any brand that is able to successfully balance nutritious offerings with great-tasting products—your guests should not have to choose between healthy considerations and flavor—they should be able to have both.

One positive reason for bringing in branded fast food is that it is quite often considered to be comfort food by a large segment of the population, including those who are part of your prime demographic target audience.

The appeal of a branded concept is that it comes with built-in name and product recognition, consumer loyalty, existing menus, recipes, operational systems, suppliers and advertising programs. You don't have to reinvent the wheel. Also, with rising costs just about everywhere, it's good to know that many favorite quick-service brands are seeing upticks in business while customers in general are cutting back from more indulgent purchases.

Some brands have made inroads into the park and recreational arena, and are expanding rapidly in non-traditional venues. In the restaurant industry, "non-traditional units" are those that are found in places other than mainstream shopping malls, strip centers or street-front locations. Non-traditional sites might include captive-audience situations, such as college campuses, hospitals, airports, convenience stores, highway rest stops and much more. For example, of the 30,000-plus Subway stores located around the world, 180 can be found inside park and recreational facilities, stadiums and arenas, health clubs and gyms, and other such venues. In fact, they can even be found at car dealers, pharmacies, laundromats—and even one inside a church!

Boasting some of the lowest startup costs of the food-service and franchise industries, these restaurants can fit just about anywhere due to minimal space and equipment requirements. Plus, an added benefit of the brand's business model is that an outlet can be custom-designed to fit into just about any space and be incorporated into a facility's current food-service operation. It can be run by the staff on hand, or space can be leased out to an established local franchisee who would handle all of the business details of the restaurant, essentially transforming you into a landlord. It all depends on how much time and effort you want to devote to your food-service operations.

There are many reasons why branded fast food is a natural fit for park and recreational facilities—keeping ahead of the competition, uniqueness, increased or implied value, healthy options, or boosting attendance and bottom line. But no matter which one resonates with you, a branded concept can be an integral part of your guest's overall experience.



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Liz Smethurst is global account manager for SUBWAY New Business. For more information, visit www.subway.com.




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