Restaurants come to you and use human resources to do so. That was the message of a recent CEO roundtable at a restaurant conference in Chicago, IL, covered by Nation’s Restaurant News. The bottom line is that there is an “accelerated shift” in sales going from store to offsite, which includes picking up meals from customers and using delivery services like DoorDash. Restaurants are turning to their human resources departments to help them hire and train employees just to grow this off-site line of business. One CEO reportedly said that employee roles had changed significantly over the past 10 years to accommodate technology and human interaction related to the outdoors. In the next 10, it will be an even bigger change, with more emphasis on employee training just for this segment and dedicated pick-up lines and areas.
Threat for sale
What this means for vending machine and micro-marketplace operators is more competition. Now, it’s not just quick service restaurants competing for the daytime dining dollar, but high-end, branded restaurants. While it’s easier for a venue’s employees to order food from these restaurants while they’re at work, micro-market or vending machine options will struggle to compete. The food may be just as good, but these restaurants succeed by making a name for themselves and creating a clientele. This is not something that exists in the vending machine and micro-market space. To this day, we remain largely invisible to the end user, working with the site manager, human resources manager or facilities manager. We don’t always have strong brands that resonate with consumers.
what you can do
Realistically, it will be difficult to compete, but that doesn’t mean giving up. This is not the first time that competition has threatened the industry. It does, however, mean being smart with the offers. One way to solve the problem is to partner with the competition. Negotiate special dining deals that bring these restaurants to the workplace on your terms. I’ve heard of operators doing this with local specialty grocery stores that work with all-natural products. Some operators will supply perishable favorites to locations once a week. Who pays for this catering varies, sometimes it’s the operator, as a marketing expense to retain consumers, and sometimes it’s the location, who wants to offer free but special food to employees without going through a model of full pantry service.
In addition to catering, going back to the basics of good merchandising is essential. While consumers can order food elsewhere, the accompanying drink could just as well come from the vending machine or micro-market. Sales data by product type will be imperative to maximizing profits on these sites, including analyzing the success of premium branded beverages that accompany the premium meals served.
Beyond beverages, sweets and baked goods continue to sell out, despite near-constant discussions about healthy products. Position these treats as dessert at a meal in on-site marketing. They become complementary items to any food purchased from vending machines and micro-markets, or simply an extra little treat after the restaurant meal the employee has delivered. Either way, the goal is to increase sales.
Competition may not be good, but it can help us evolve. Be aware that restaurants are trying to find ways to expand their offerings and this will show up in your establishments.