Chipotle’s much-copied serving line is shifting out of restaurants and into homes and offices as the latest ripple in the off-premise boom.
Chains eager to tout the customization provided by the cafeteria-like setups are co-opting the approach to offer something different for catering and large takeout orders. As an alternative to platters of sandwiches or bins of salads, the mini buffets enable users to put together personalized meals or snacks from a variety of options.
This summer, for instance, Red Robin will introduce a self-service Gourmet Burger Bar that patrons can bring to a party or business meeting.
The full-service chain is hardly alone in marketing what are essentially mini prep lines. Here’s a sampling.
Red Robin’s Gourmet Burger Bar
Part of the brand’s DNA is offering burgers in more computations than most customers might imagine. Tossing a few packets of condiments into the to-go bag isn’t going to capture that strength.
Instead, the chain is adding a mini hot burger bar as a takeout option for customers looking to feed a large group. Patrons select their patty from a hot holding area and customize it by choosing from 16 types of room-temperature toppings, from fresh onion slices to bacon, as well as sauces.
The bar was developed to serve as a possible catering option as well, said CEO Denny Post. A push into catering is in the conceptualization stage, she added.
Chipotle hits the road
A push for off-premise sales is a key part of the burrito chain’s turnaround strategy. One of the tactics amounts to a mobile, disposable version of the Chipotle line—foil trays and canister-type warmers that duplicate what customers see when they visit a store.
Depending on the array, the catering package can feed from 20 to 200 people. The emphasis is on providing choice: Catered guests can choose between a variety of meats, rice, beans, salsas and toppings. Soft tortillas are provided for bowls or burritos, and hard shells are included for tacos.
Nekter’s ‘pop-up juice bar’
The Nekter juice chain is marketing what it calls a pop-up bowl bar for meetings and social events. Customers’ guests put together their own lunchtime or snack bowls by spooning a preblended acai or pitaya base into 8-ounce cups and adding prepared toppings.
The do-it-yourself setup is intended to feed six to eight people.
Olive Garden’s Create Your Own Pasta Station
The resurgence of Darden Restaurants’ Italian chain is due in no small part to a push for off-premise business, particularly catering. Part of the marketing sizzle has been a new self-serve pasta station that provides the choice customers are given inside an Olive Garden.
The packaged deal includes three pastas, three sauces and three toppings, in quantities large enough to feed 10 people and at a price that starts at $11.50 per serving.