Not ones to be left out of a potentially lucrative opportunity, chain restaurants are following a recent wave of independent concepts in upping their retail game. Cracker Barrel, of course, has been at it for decades, selling candy and household gift items in old-style country stores attached to its restaurants. Among the more recent converts is a long-time competitor, 52-year-old Bob Evans Farms
Carryout is a plum for the family-restaurant segment, particularly because of the increased competition it faces from the major quick-service brands. Takeout and other off-premise “layers” are also key to Bob Evans’ efforts to draw younger, on-the-go consumers.
“Today’s customers have a completely different way of interacting with restaurants,” says John Fisher, Bob Evans’ chief concept officer. “We feel that we can continue to differentiate ourselves with the quality, freshness and variety of our food—not just with dine-in but also takeout and catering. Now we’re aiming for more exposure for the brand.” The long-term goal: drive off-premise sales to 25 percent of total volume, or double what it is now.
The New Albany, Ohio-based company launched its Farm Fresh Refresh initiative—which includes a more contemporary decor package, a separate Taste of the Farm Bakery for grab-and-go and a dedicated carryout counter (as well as online ordering and now an app)—in 2011. But the project has gotten an unexpected boost from lessons learned in the creation of a Bob Evans Express prototype for licensed locations at airports, malls and universities.
“We spent a lot of time working out the details of the express units before we ever released the concept to the noncommercial marketplace,” says Fisher, citing the entirely new challenges posed by different service modes, including the need for speed and accuracy.
These learnings were applied back to the Farm Fresh concept, now in place in more than 550 locations, in a kind of version 2.0 of the refresh. These refinements included not only systems, training, merchandising and packaging, but also new menu items that could be executed quickly without compromising the brand. Chief among them is the bowl-like Sunshine Skillet, a takeout-friendly version of the signature Rise & Shine breakfast.