Terah Shelton Harris

Prepare for Takeoff

An airport location offers quick serves domestic and international brand exposure, sound growth opportunities, and increased profits. But, like many other nontraditional venues, airports require restaurants to wrangle space restrictions, difficult logistics, and menu limitations.

“You really have to understand what you’re getting into,” says Anthony Joseph, president of Atlanta-based Concessions International (CI), a food and beverage concessionaire with operations in eight airports.

Taking Office

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.”

Fast Casual Makes Play for Brunch

When co-owners Robert Maynard and Brian Burchill launched Toast Café in 2005, they set out to create a concept that offers a better breakfast dining experience. In only a few short years, Toast Café grew to three locations in North Carolina, and the owners are now ready to ramp up growth with plans for expansion, including franchises, and to dominate the 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. brunch daypart.

In Real Time

In today’s social world, customers expect the information they need and want within seconds. That’s why menu management service Locu is partnering with Yelp to let restaurants distribute and update their menus, daily specials, and photos on Yelp in real time.

The New Face of R&D

There’s no way around the truth that social media is now a critical tool for limited-service restaurant brands.

It plays an influential role in marketing and building brand identity, and allows concepts to reach out to and interact with fans and followers to build deeper relationships.

But using social media is about more than just advertising products and promotions on Facebook and Twitter.

Today, many brands in the industry are taking it a step further, using social media and crowdsourcing to help create new products and flavors.

No Hike Here

Despite drought-driven food-price increases, quick serves are refusing to pass rising costs on to the customer, according to a recent survey by group purchasing firm SpenDifference. The study shows that more than one-quarter (26 percent) of restaurants maintained steady pricing in 2012, compared with 14 percent the year before.

“Operators are looking to reduce costs through renegotiating supplier agreements and distribution contracts, promoting lower-food-cost items both in their main menus and LTOs,” says Brad Moore, senior vice president at SpenDifference.

The Debt-Free Debate

Firehouse Subs did it. So did Tin Drum. Is going debt-free right for your brand?

The Sorensen brothers have grown Firehouse Subs into a powerful fast casual.
Robin (right) and Chris Sorensen have built Firehouse Subs into a powerful fast-casual player with no debt.

The past few years have not been the kindest to the $660.5 billion restaurant industry. Faced with frugal consumers, scarce credit, and rising food prices, operators suffered through lower sales and tighter margins.

Adding to the pressure was last summer’s drought (the largest in the U.S. since the 1950s), which spiked the cost of meat and dairy products and will likely increase food prices between 3 and 4 percent, according to the USDA. These challenges have applied more pressure on companies already struggling to get back in the black.

What Sandy Taught Us

Operators reflect on how disaster preparation should change after the storm.

Hurricane Sandys destruction taught business operators important lessons.
ThinkStock.com

It’s been a month and a half since Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on parts of the East Coast. The storm caused an estimated $62 billion in damage, with about $10–$20 billion of insured losses, according to Eqecat Inc., a provider of catastrophic risk models.

As many restaurant operators in the affected areas slowly clean up and reopen for business, many are realizing the importance of disaster-recovery plans that could have helped them prepare for the storm.