Forget the rock-hard pretzels and suspicious-looking hot dogs that cart vendors were once known for. Nowadays, the mobile foodservice space is populated by specialty coffee concepts, gourmet popcorn carts, and Korean barbecue on wheels. And business is booming for these operators as they look to economize and get in front of consumers in new ways.
It might seem like quick-serve concepts and hospitals are headed for an epic breakup, as some brands have come under fire for their presence in places meant to heal. The American Hospital Association labeled unhealthy foods “environmental inconsistencies,” whether they’re served out of vending machines, cafeterias, or franchised units in hospital food courts.
Grab-and-go items, once a staple of nontraditional spaces like college campuses and airports, have gone mainstream.
Today, operations ranging from convenience stores to standalone quick-service restaurants are adding prepackaged items like fresh carrots with ranch dip, pre-made chicken wraps, or yogurt parfaits. And they’re doing so for a good reason: Every day, 28 million Americans eat a grab-and-go snack, according to data from consumer market research firm The NPD Group.
Once slandered as the “B word,” bankruptcy is finding new life as an opportunity for new beginnings. Blue-chip brands like Eddie Bauer, Delta Air Lines, and the Chicago Cubs are among the list of house-hold business names that have filed for bankruptcy in modern times, times in which even city governments—the most notable being Detroit—have looked to bankruptcy to solve fiscal woes. Those once-bankrupt American institutions, along with more than 1 million personal bankruptcies each year, suggest that the “B word” may have has lost at least some of its bite.
In the last few years, Wall Street has shown an increased appetite for restaurant companies as a whole, and it’s fast-casual brands in particular that increasingly grab investors’ attention.
That was perhaps no more evident than in 2013, when enthusiasm for fast-casual restaurant concepts reached new heights with gangbuster initial public offerings (IPO) from Potbelly and Noodles & Company. The IPOs raised about $100 million each, and stock prices of both companies more than doubled on their opening days of trading.
Gone are the days of big-box fast-food joints, sterile plastic booths, and mystery kitchens. Limited-service brands are getting makeovers, and the results are sleeker, more attractive restaurants that are giving customers even more reason to trade down from full-service experiences.
The best drive thrus run like machines. Simple goals are met over and over: Orders go out quickly, the food is delivered fresh, and the right orders get to the right cars. But in the drive thru, pressure can run high and the smallest mistakes can prove catastrophic, backing up lines and spelling disaster for both customers and the restaurant’s bottom line.
Einstein Bros. Bagels
rank last year: 47
With domestic sales down by about $12 million, Einstein Bros. Bagels fell out of the QSR 50 and tops the Contenders list for 2012. The brand has redesigned its options for value-conscious customers, including the new $3.99 Everyday Value Offers. With an expansion of its Smart Choices options, Super Grain bagels, and specialty beverage and low-fat smoothie lineup, Einstein Bros. hopes hitting industry trends will get it back into the upper ranks.
At Jersey Mike’s Subs, it’s the little things that make a big difference. The real red wine vinegar used on sandwiches. The freshly sliced meats and cheeses. The store-baked bread and the made-to-order cheesesteaks on the grill.
Jersey Mike’s leaders say those small touches are what set it apart from the world of fast food; it’s not just about offering a cheap meal. The brand isn’t competing in the $5 foot-long arena. Instead, executives say they’re staying focused on the quality of ingredients and service.
The history books detailing the recent Great Recession will include plenty of obvious chapters: the subprime mortgage crisis, Wall Street bailouts, housing bubbles, and skyrocketing unemployment. But those volumes might miss a less visible element of the economic collapse: the crippling credit market that wreaked havoc by bringing business growth to a near standstill.