Keeping the foodservice equipment marketplace up to date with the latest menu and concept trends.


Restaurants Enter the Grocery Game

Restaurant chains Beef 'O' Brady's and Taziki’s may operate in different industry segments but like a growing number of chains they have adapted their product mix for the time being to include groceries.

Not so long ago, there was a trend toward supermarkets becoming more than grocery stores. Many offered items like self-serve soup and salad bars and prepared foods to-go, just like many restaurants. A few grocers, such as Whole Foods, even created mini restaurants in their stores.

As a result of COVID-19, though, this trend is the mirror opposite of what it once was as restaurants transition to functioning as mini-grocery stores. From small independent restaurants to large chains such as Panera Bread, operators continue to take advantage of their relationships with foodservice distributors to secure items they can sell to customers in need. This process helps operators ease the economic pain of being shuttered.

The approach to this new role tends to be as diverse as restaurants’ operating models and menus. The following showcases the way a casual-dining and a fast-casual concept approached this latest trend.

Beef 'O' Brady’s

BeefOBradys Menu1Beef 'O' Brady’s pantry staples menu allows each store to customize its approach to offering grocery items.Warren Fry, a franchisee in Cape Coral, Fla., for the 150-unit chain, was the first operator in the Beef 'O'Brady’s system to attempt selling grocery items from his restaurant. The initiative was so successful the corporate marketing department stepped in to broaden the scope of the program and assist other franchisees in setting up their stores to sell grocery items.

“We created an editable menu of items that managers could sell,” said Heather Boggs, chief marketing officer for the chain. “We put that out to the franchise system.”

Items vary from one store to another based on what distributors have on their push lists, as well as what may be in shorter demand at local supermarkets. Availability of items changes daily, Boggs added, but generally includes meat, seafood, produce, dairy, bakery, dry goods and even alcoholic beverages. The chain makes some items available in limited quantities to keep customers from hoarding. Beef 'O' Brady’s will also honor customers’ requests for specific items whenever possible.

“People will order online, or they will call in to the store,” Boggs explained. “The orders are all over the board, from some needing 2 rolls of toilet paper to orders with 20 to 25 items.”

Beef 'O' Brady’s operates on advance ordering, particularly for large orders. Some stores, for example, might take orders on Monday and Tuesday for pickup on Wednesday. Other units will guarantee items within a 48-hour window. “But if we have something available when a customer places an order, they can usually come and pick it up that day,” Boggs said.

In addition to grocery items, people can order “meal deal to-go packs,” family-size meals such as build-your-own tacos and cheesy bacon chicken and salad. Customers use curbside pickup to collect their orders, paying either online before they arrive or by using handheld units at the restaurant. Employees all wear masks and latex gloves and sanitize handheld units after each customer.

The process works well for those stores that use it, Boggs noted. At the Cape Coral unit, for example, grocery items account for 35% of sales. Items that move fastest include proteins, milk, toilet paper and other paper goods. “We have become like a one-stop shop for our communities,” Boggs said. “There are limited items on grocery store shelves right now, so we can offer those things people are having a hard time finding. It also has helped the morale of our employees remain so positive.”

Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe

Large Veggie BagTaziki’s Mediterranean Cafe now offers customers vegetable bags and other pantry-stocking supplies in addition to its regular menu lineup.The Nashville-based fast-casual chain has taken a different approach to grocery shopping. Rachel Layton, vice president of marketing and growth, said the 90-unit Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe sells packaged grocery bags. Customers can choose from small or large fruit or veggie bags. The fruit bags contain apples, oranges, grapes and seasonal berries. The small veggie bags hold romaine lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes and onions, along with a pint of the chain’s Greek or balsamic dressing, made on-site, of course. The large bags contain those items along with potatoes and seasonal vegetables such as asparagus and squashes.

In addition, customers can select the Cold Pantry Bag, which contains Taziki’s hummus, whipped feta, salsa and pasta salad and baked pita bread. Customers may also be able to buy a la carte items such as proteins, basmati rice, penne and rotini pastas, and gallons of iced tea and lemonade.

Layton explains the decision to offer prepackaged bags was based on customer preference. “Our guests really value convenience,” she said. “We couldn’t have gotten away with the piecemeal approach others are using. For us it was to make this turnkey for the guests, as simple and as executable as possible.”

Taziki’s tested the waters by sending an e-blast with a pre-order form to several hundred customers who had signed up to receive alerts from the company. “Within two days, we had 250 people say they were interested,” said Layton. “That was a good indication that the demand was there.”

After working out logistics with the chain’s distributors, Taziki’s Market Essentials opened for business. At first, the distributor handled the packing of the bags, but company executives decided that they wanted the chain to have control over the process. As a result of bringing the packing in-house, Taziki’s was able to drop the prices of the small bags by a couple of dollars, Layton said. “Guests can order online or by phone,” she added. “Online is easier, because you can see everything, put it in your cart and pay. Then you decide whether we deliver it to you, or you come to pick it up.”

In addition to the grocery bags, customers can still order individual meals or family packs. Fresh cut fruit represents one particularly popular produce. “Parents who have kids at home really appreciate this because they can serve this without having to do any work,” Layton notes. “It’s a big time-saver for them.”