Struggling Potbelly unveils new prototype in Chicago

The revamped design switches up the chain’s traditional ordering process in hopes of boosting efficiency.
Photograph courtesy of Potbelly's

Struggling chain Potbelly Sandwich Shop this week debuted a new prototype in Chicago, one that flip-flops its traditional ordering process and is designed to boost efficiency.

At the redesigned store, created while the original unit was shuttered for two months, customers place their full order at the front cash register, pay for the order, watch it being made and receive it at the end of the makeline.

In traditional Potbelly units, customers place their order, follow along as the food is prepared and then pay at the end.

A revamped menu board presents all of Potbelly’s offerings on one screen above the cash registers, including sandwiches, salads, soups and shakes.

The new design also adds a dividing wall between those in the ordering line and those in the dining room.

Shelving on a back wall provides a pickup spot for digital orders.

Potbelly CEO Alan Johnson said it’s too early to say whether the new prototype is boosting efficiency. The new design reduces initial capital investment by 25%.

“We’re excited about what we’re seeing so far,” Johnson told Restaurant Business.

A second redesigned location is slated to open later this year in suburban Chicago, while future shops will cherry-pick the best elements of the redesign, he said.

It’s of little debate that the Chicago-based, 472-unit chain could use a turnaround. Earlier this month, the fast-casual chain reported that traffic fell 8.3% during its third quarter, while same-store sales decreased 3%. The brand said it had closed 11 stores so far this year and had halted company-owned unit growth.

Potbelly has hired a consulting firm to provide guidance on its turnaround plan.

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