With so many fine-dining operations branching into the fast-casual segment, converts are learning there’s another challenge to master: consumer education.
Some fine-dining specialists report that consumers come into their new limited-service restaurants expecting full service, unsure of where and how to order or pick up their food. So, how are they teaching customers to order those build-your-own bowls and personalized pizzas? And how are they striving to make the process fun, stress-free and efficient?
Here’s a look at how some fast casuals are making sure diners know how to navigate the operation.
1. Employ a greeter
At the new Made Nice in New York City, a fast casual from the team behind Eleven Madison Park and The NoMad, the greeter/order taker performs the role of the traditional server. He or she explains the lineup of seasonal dishes and beverage choices. This clears up any consumer confusion and speeds the ordering process.
2. Make signage clear and prominent
Denver’s Vital Root, a new plant-based fast casual from the Edible Beats restaurant group, places large signs at the entrance to help steer consumers in the right direction. Culinary Director Jeremy Kittelson says some diners have come in expecting full service. So, the signs with step-by-step numbered instructions have come in handy.
3. Figure out tipping
Consumers are often unsure whether (and who) to tip at a fast casual. At Vicia, a St. Louis restaurant that’s a fast casual during the day and full service at night, lunch workers are paid 50% more than their nighttime colleagues to compensate for the lower tips, says Tara Gallina, general manager and owner. Returning customers, though, have started tipping at lunch after seeing workers refill drinks and clear plates. “In the very beginning, we were not seeing great tips,” Gallina says. “We did consider the idea of no tipping because of how people get weird. It would’ve cost way too much … Now that it’s going, customers have figured it out. People have caught on.”
4. Keep the menu simple
A simple menu not only allows for efficient fast-casual service, it makes it easier on your customers as well. Vicia served a pared-down menu of focaccia sandwiches, tartine, soups, salad and quiche during the day. “Because of the volume, we set it up to make it so simple for the kitchen so we can produce very quickly,” Gallina says.
5. Embrace mindful design
The fast-casual floor plan should make it obvious where consumers should go to place their orders, where they should wait and where they should sit. Vital Root employs partitions to separate the ordering counter from the dining area, while also guiding customers from the door to the counter. At Vicia, the bar doubles as the ordering counter during the day and the kitchen was designed with an open pass for diners to pick up their food. Customers wait at their table while the food is prepared. A text to their mobile phone alerts them when it’s ready.