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The explosion in off-premises business was on everyone’s minds at the annual National Restaurant Association Show, held May 18–21 in Chicago. That was especially true of Frank Paci, CEO of Dallas-based fast casual Corner Bakery.
The chief executive—who previously led companies such as Einstein Noah Restaurant Group and McAlister’s Deli before taking the reins at Corner Bakery in 2015—says the growth in off-premises dining is presenting an opportunity to stand out in a crowded fast-casual field.
“It’s a very competitive marketplace. Unless you’re doing something different or better, you’re not going to win,” he says. “So our goal is to figure out how to get better, but do it on a basis that is replicable and doesn’t take a huge amount of labor to do it.”
Corner Bakery is no stranger to off-premises; Paci says catering accounts for over 25 percent of its business, and the brand delivers catering orders itself with company-owned vans. This gave it a leg up when the third-party delivery services took off a few years ago.
“We’ve been in the food delivery business for a long time, just more in the large order than small order business,” he says.
Today, Corner Bakery partners with DoorDash and Grubhub for delivery, with Uber Eats coming online soon. Paci says data shows that delivery services tend to be more popular in higher-income markets, which happens to be where most Corner Bakery restaurants are located. The decision to do third-party delivery wasn’t a challenging one, but he says its growth has been much faster than he’d anticipated.
This ongoing increase in off-premises business, Paci says, has forced Corner Bakery to rethink its model. For starters, the company is looking more at smaller footprints as a bigger share of the business is consumed off-site. Whereas previous locations averaged around 4,000 square feet, he says some franchisees have started looking at footprints that are more around 2,000 square feet.
In addition, Corner Bakery is now adding drive thrus. While it’s inherently a different experience than that of a quick serve—speed of service will be important but not critical as customers understand it takes time to serve higher-quality food—the foundation of the brand’s drive thru will be similar to that of a brand like Culver’s, Paci says, with payment not occurring until the customer picks up the food.
He adds that the common theme behind all of these recent moves is convenience, as well as the customer’s ongoing demand to get food how they want it, when they want it, and where they want it.
“Convenience has always been one of the biggest drivers in the business, and it’s all about how you get it conveniently—whether you get it through the drive thru, whether you get it delivered to your place, whether you have catering that comes and sets up,” he says. “With the growth of third party, it’s just another convenience.”