OPINIONRetail Foodservice

The 'Restaurmart' Is the Post-Coronavirus Restaurant Model

Crisis-adjusted outlets could cater to changing tastes

The Lempert Report

Most restaurants in the U.S. have been shut down for weeks, some for months, and there is speculation that a good percentage may never open again.

Restaurateurs—from Wolfgang Puck to many local restaurants–have converted to takeout only until they are given the OK to resume their normal business. But according to Puck, there will be changes in the future, including fewer tables to provide more distancing, which means his staff will shrink and his restaurants’ prices may have to increase as volume decreases but certain fixed costs like rent remain the same.

And then there are even more entrepreneurial restaurants and caterers, including chains such as Panera and Big Boy, that also added an assortment of goods they had on hand or got from their foodservice distributors to sell directly to consumers. Assortments include alcohol, boxes and cans of ingredients, flour, meats, produce and yes, even toilet paper.

Which makes me wonder if this is the beginning of a new concept: the "restaurmart."

We have seen many supermarkets enter the foodservice arena with their grocerant concepts with many successes. Why not do the opposite in order to save the restaurant business and add extra profits for the restaurant and extra convenience for their customers? After all, let's remember that pre-COVID, the average customer went to a store to buy food 2.2 times a week. According to Zagat, the average person goes out to eat 4.9 times a week for lunch or dinner. 

Imagine the additional profit that could be realized if on each of those 4.9 occasions a diner also picked up an assortment of products to bring home. And for those restaurants known for their special sauces, unique recipes and even desserts, to package them with their own brand just increases the strength of the relationship and their brand.

Major foodservice-only distributors such as Sysco have already started helping their restaurant customers create these new mini markets with tips and advice on their new website, Sysco Pop Up Shop, which touts on its home page: “With the COVID-19 outbreak causing operators across the country to cease dine-in services for the foreseeable future, restaurants now have the opportunity to offer additional ‘essential’ products. Let Sysco help provide nourishment to your neighborhood," including how to get started, resources and how to grow the business.

It’s a great idea, and it also helps the giant distributor whose warehouses are stocked with foods they aren’t able to sell to restaurants—even those who are doing takeout are reporting a fraction of their normal business. 

Come to think of it, this restaurmart concept sounds like a bit of a twist on the Cracker Barrel chain that started out in 1969 as a “old country store” that has grown to over 650 restaurants/country stores and have been selling packaged foods since 1969 and has their brands of meats and signature buttermilk baking and pancake mixes selling in supermarkets throughout the country.

Restaurmarts just could be the savior of the foodservice industry. 

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