Earlier this year, McAlister's Deli unveiled a new exterior and front-of-the-house design prototype that gives its units a more modern and vibrant look and feel. Currently implemented in two stores, the prototype includes features designed to enhance the guest experience. Free Wi-Fi is now standard, and all stores that are developed or refreshed with the new look include a tea bar. The unique addition looks to more strongly position the chain's signature Famous Sweet Tea while expanding tea offerings with new flavors such as citrus green tea and mango green tea.
Positioned as a dedicated area along the guest service counter, beyond where customers place orders, this new element delivers operational as well as marketing advantages. The tea bar relieves the cashiers, who in legacy units ring in orders and pour tea from behind the counter before guests leave that station to find a table.
"The tea bar is helping us to enhance customer service," Paci says. "In the original stores, cashiers can only fill two glasses of tea at a time, so if there are more than a couple of people in a party, it slows down the line. It also holds up food orders because, with larger parties that have multiple tea orders and multiple requests for customization — half tea, half lemonade, for example, or half sweetened, half unsweetened — the cashiers can't remember it all and need to keep that order up on the screen until they're done filling the teas. With the tea bar, you place your order, get your glass and move down the line to the bar, where an employee serves you your drink just how you want it. The line moves faster, there's less pressure on the cashiers and on the guests as well, who can feel rushed if they're trying to customize orders with people waiting behind them. Plus, the order goes straight into the kitchen, saving time on that end. Still another great benefit is that the bar provides one more opportunity for our associates to interact with guests. It's a nice touch point."
Through its new prototype design, McAlister's Deli also set out to provide guests with a fresher, more contemporary and more comfortable dining environment. In addition to a new color palette, the design features mixed seating with tables, booths and hi-tops, as well as new fixtures, lighting and menu boards. The look and feel play nicely to one of the chain's key target demographics, millennials. "We have a very broad customer base, including families, but we tend to skew slightly younger," Paci notes. "Many of our locations are on or near college campuses, and we were recently named the top fast-casual chain in a Technomic survey of 19- to 34-year-olds for food quality and social responsibility. This new environment, with free Wi-Fi and more flexible, comfortable seating, should appeal to that group, too."
While the look is new and fresh, certain iconic brand elements have been maintained, including the town murals that grace the walls in each unit and that help create a connection to the community. "What we've tried to do is make it a comfortable place for people to sit down with family and friends and enjoy a meal. We really try to connect with each community, and we use in-store graphics and photos to do that. I like to think of McAlister's Deli as the non-chain chain in that regard."