Growth | March 2014 | By Terah Shelton Harris

Taking Office

Quick-serve concepts in office buildings thrive by adapting to their surroundings.

Fast food brands move into office retail space to serve hungry employees.
Fresh to Order’s unit in the CNN Center in Atlanta employs two extra staff members to serve the building’s time-crunched workers and visitors. fresh to order
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Convenience, portability, and health are often top of mind for consumers who eat out during the workday, presenting unique challenges to operators embedded in large office buildings. But the brands that meet the needs of the working consumer, experts say, will find this nontraditional space presents an opportunity for new revenue streams.

“It’s a captive audience because the people are already there,” says Diane Coyne, principal at iBrandEz, a branding firm that focuses on nontraditional expansion. “So your opportunity lies with the people in the building.”

The team at Rising Roll, a Southern deli brand, has been operating their limited-service restaurant in office buildings for several years. In addition to a location in the Regions Bank Tower in Atlanta, the brand operates a location in the 24-floor multi-tenant Monarch Plaza Tower, which many consider to be a top-class office in Atlanta. Rising Roll also opened a location in the 22-story 100 Congress building in downtown Austin, Texas, and has an additional space in Greenway Plaza, a 10-building office collection in Houston.

“We’re a breakfast and lunch concept whose hours of operation align with when people will be in their office and at work,” says Mike Lassiter, president of Rising Roll.

Rising Roll is not the only brand focusing on this particular nontraditional space. Atlanta-based Fresh to Order recently opened a location in the CNN Center in its hometown.

“The CNN Center was looking to provide healthy, fresh, and unique dining options for its staff and visitors from around the country and the world,” says Pierre Panos, Fresh to Order founder and CEO.

Despite offering revenue and growth opportunities, establishing a presence in office buildings requires a tailored strategy. Coyne says it’s important for brands to listen to the customer and understand the rise and fall of business hours.

“Because these locations are different than the flow of a street store, brands should expect to serve a lot of people in a short period of time,” she says. “In order to do this, brands must adapt their menus, staffing levels, and equipment to meet the demands of consumers that are usually on the go.”

Rising Roll modified its menu of sandwiches, salads, soups, and breakfast items, adding new hot entrées, Lassiter says.

“We realized there was a huge opportunity for people who wanted a hot-plate item but didn’t want to leave the building,” he says.

Fresh to Order’s Panos believes speed is king in nontraditional locations, especially since the biggest competitors tend to be restaurants touting pre-made food. To adapt to the CNN space, Fresh to Order amended some of its procedures and added extra labor to execute dishes quickly, he says.

“When the office workers come downstairs, they only have a specific amount of time to grab their lunch,” Panos says. “They are also used to be being fed by fast-food restaurants and having their food prepared extremely quickly.”

Panos says the concept typically staffs a four-man line for lunch. At the CNN Center, however, there are two additional staff members who make it possible to serve customers within five minutes and still prepare and cook food to order.

“Does it cost more in labor? Yes,” he says. “But we know we’re not going to be able to compete if we don’t have the extra labor.”

In buildings dubbed “Class A,” like those in which Rising Roll operates in Atlanta, proper ventilation can also be a challenge. Property managers generally don’t want the building smelling like food, so brands often must modify kitchen equipment. For example, instead of grilling chicken in office units, Rising Roll roasts chicken in a convention oven, Lassiter says.

“In our traditional stores, our standard kitchen setup is a grill and a range,” he says. “In our office locations, we only have heat removal for venting and have had to modify our entire operating procedure and adapt our equipment package to allow us to process a high-quality product with a different cooking method.”

Often, the biggest piece of the puzzle in the office space is managing a not-so-typical traffic pattern across dayparts, experts say.

Lassiter says Rising Roll’s key to surviving with such distinctive dayparts is the brand’s catering component. “Not only do we serve breakfast and lunch in the restaurant, we’re also doing breakfast and lunch catering outside of the location, within the building, and the business area,” he says. “The catering component became the third daypart for us.”

Coyne expects to see more brands taking up residence in office buildings over the next few years, not only because brands are seeking additional revenue streams, but also because many corporations that own large office buildings are demanding quick-serve brands. She says this demand is driven by a desire to lure new tenants to buildings and keep existing ones from moving out, and to build profit.

A lot of these office buildings were subsidized by the company as a benefit, but now everything is for profit,” Coyne says. “Because of this, some buildings are requesting brands that know what they are doing, have the experience, and already have the operating model in place.”