The newest pilot program, at 10 stores in the West Palm Beach, Florida, region, upgrades the food, plateware, and staffing of the stores, among other things.
CEO Lane Cardwell, who has been at the company for a year, says the new changes are a “rejuvenation” of the brand and the beginning of what he calls the “new Boston Market.”
“Over the last year we’ve been trying a lot of things,” Cardwell says. “The company has had … a lot of attempts at change over the last dozen years. None of them have really stuck.”
The food in the new pilot program includes 18 items that have been “added, changed, or enhanced,” Cardwell says. Items like the loaded mashed potatoes and squash casserole join the menu, while the green beans, turkey, and signature cornbread have all been changed.
The cornbread, Cardwell says, was the riskiest move the company made.
“Literally every one of our guests gets it, and we’ve had guests who have been getting it for 15 years,” he says. “We hedged our bets. … We looked at where the risk was and tried to mitigate it where we could.”
Staff was increased at each of the 10 pilot program stores, and a new position was added: dining room ambassador.
“We’ve added the position of dining room ambassador to help people bring food out to tables, bus tables, get drink refills, answer questions—just an extra level of service that we haven’t had in a long time,” Cardwell says.
Plateware was also improved in the Boston Market test, and includes real china and silverware.
“We’ve had a history of serving what is, in my mind, a $10 plate of food that we charge $7 for in a $5 manner on disposable ware,” Cardwell says. “Now we’re charging $7 for food that looks like $10 on white plates, white soup bowls or salad bowls, and stainless ware.”
Cardwell says Boston Market has felt pressure from fast-casual brands like Panera Bread and Corner Bakery Café in the last 10 years.
“The more they grow, the more guests share their experiences at other places, they come back and say, ‘You know, other people do that, why don’t you?’” he says.
“Price-wise, we’re dead-center in fast casual. What we’re trying to do is upgrade the experience to match the price.”