When Salsa Fiesta opened its sixth domestic location last month, it rolled out a hybrid service model: quick serve for weekday lunches and full-service dining for evenings and weekends. Prior to opening the newest store in Miami Lakes, Florida, the Mexican concept had exclusively used limited service, but founder and CEO Cesar Olivo gives the impression that the transition was somewhat natural.
“Our fast casual is a little bit more upscale than other fast casuals about the presentation, about the high-quality ingredients that we are using,” Olivo says. “We thought maybe it would be better if we have something at night or during the weekend. When people are more relaxed, it can be enjoyed a little bit more as another kind of experience.”
Originally founded in Caracas, Venezuela, in 2003, the family-owned quick service expanded to the U.S. with its first Miami store in 2008. Growth has ramped up in recent years with four of the six locations opening in just the last three years.
Beyond creating a more leisurely atmosphere, full-service dining hours allow the restaurant to showcase different menu items, including fresh guacamole prepared tableside and a Mexican version of corn on the cob. Olivo says that he also plans to add more options like seafood dishes to the full-service menu.
Because all foods are made from scratch, on-site every day, some items—like the guacamole—might be prepared a couple of hours in advance for the lunch crowd versus being made fresh for dinner guests.
In addition to new dishes, Salsa Fiesta’s 100-seat, 2,400-square-foot space lends itself well to lingering over a meal: Local artist Greg Gayle painted the walls with sugar skulls and bright colors. Setup changes also signal the shift to full service.
“It's more detailed,” Olivo says. “For example, the tables are already set and real napkins and everything is set in a different way than we have at lunchtime.”
A half limited, half full-service establishment might be unconventional, but it also stands to gain the best of both worlds. Hurried lunch guests can grab a fast bite; new customers might visit in part due to the relaxed evening atmosphere; and existing customers may increase their frequency given the added variety. Olivo will see how the experiment fares over the next six to eight months before deciding whether to incorporate the new system at existing locations.
“So far we are really happy and the customers also are really happy,” Olivo says. “If we feel everything is going well, we’ll be changing it little by little [at] all the stores.”
By Nicole Duncan