When celebrity chef Jose Andres launched his veggie-focused fast casual, Beefsteak, earlier this year, he opted for a location on a college campus in Washington, D.C. The third location, too, is slated for a college, the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia. Clearly, younger consumers are his prime target.
But for Unit Number Two of his Chipotlesque concept, he expanded his reach and chose a spot in D.C.’s hip Dupont Circle. We’ve previously talked in Restaurant Business about what a tough market D.C. can be for fast casuals because of the intense competition, yet Andres went head-to-head with leading contenders, opening on a block that includes rapidly growing sweetgreen, Chipotle-owned Shophouse and BGR The Burger Joint.
With that kind of stiff competition, Restaurant Business editors had to check it out while in the area for the FSTEC Conference. And there were a few points of differentiation (and a question or two) that stood out, especially to this millennial—who admittedly would hit Beefsteak for lunch often if she lived in the area.
1. A low-tech method of taking orders.
Instead of having to repeat our order at each station as we progressed down the build-your-own line, staffers used markers to write the order on food trays up front. From what we could tell, the marker wiped off easy for simple clean-up. No paper tickets or order repeating needed.
2. High-tech options for powering up.
There are several power outlets along the walls of the seating area at Beefsteak. But instead of traditional outlets, each socket also has two USB ports for diners to plug into.
3. Yet limited seating options.
Putting outlets and USB ports along the walls invites people to stay and work at tables for awhile. Yet there are only 40-ish seats, most of which are at communal tables pretty far from the outlets.
4. Communal table domination.
Many restaurants going the communal-seating route choose tables that can be pulled apart, if needed. Beefsteak’s tables are solid chunks of wood, no breaking apart possible. While communal dining may still be hot, it’s also a turnoff to some.
5. How much labor is too much labor?
Down the street, Shophouse runs with a team of five people. Granted, it was opening day at Beefsteak (so the restaurant likely was staffed for training purposes), but can labor costs really be sustainable with three times the staff of Shophouse?
6. Portions are hefty.
Many fast casuals pushing health can’t win over millennial males, due to small portion sizes. Beefsteak didn’t cut portions of its bowls for the sake of calories.
7. How risky are high-cost self-serve drinks?
Most restaurants selling premium juice divvy it out behind the counter. At Beefsteak, three housemade juices circulate in self-serve machines. The placement of the machines—at the backs of where consumers pay—is suspect; especially with a long line blocking the view, I’d guess a lot of diners don’t know about the juice until after checking out. And how can the restaurant protect what has to be a high-cost item from theft?
8. Green matters, even with trash.
When disposing of our dishes at the trash station, there were three holes for garbage. Yet it wasn’t for garbage at all. Two holes said Recycle and the third said Compost. Green clearly matters to D.C. diners, as Beefsteak isn’t the only brand on the block pushing recycling and composting instead of trash.