As Benjamin Franklin once said, “When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.” No truer words could define the restaurant industry. There was a time when going out to a restaurant meant that your guests were celebrating a special occasion and ready for a fine-dining experience, similar to a time when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Now, eating out is a way of life that has emerged because of busy lifestyles and it is seen as more of a necessity than a luxury. Knowledgeable patrons want to get a quick and healthy bite at their convenience and be on their way. And those are the magic words for today: convenience and speed.
Enter the Smaller Concepts
While some restaurants are embracing the smaller-footprint concept by going from a 1,400 to a 900 square-foot venue, in part due to limited real estate because of the fast-casual explosion, others are taking the concept a tad bit further. Shoot, forget the brick and mortar, they are diving in head first to the sea of change and becoming part of one of the fastest growing movements in the restaurant industry: food-on-the-run or the mobile food concept. And the choices are expanding. Just take a look at these four concepts on the rise:
- Mobile Cart — This may just be the ultimate in small concepts with six-by-three being a typical size food cart. The great part of this venue is, of course, the low overhead. Carts sell for anywhere from $4,000 to $20,000 depending on their bells, whistles, size, features and quality. These require high traffic sites such as farmer’s markets, charity events, and busy parks. They also do well in warm climates.
- Kiosks — This word may conjure up images of small, independent booths lined up in the center of malls with sometimes assertive-bordering-on-aggressive sales people stalking down unfortunate passer-bys. Restaurant kiosks are, fortunately and for the most part, a far cry from their retail counterparts. Many provide a venue in otherwise unobtainable locations such as conference centers, airports, arenas and amusement parks. According to a recent article in Entrepreneur, restaurant kiosks in busy locations can make upwards of $2,000 per day—with very little overhead.
- Pop-up Restaurants — The once infamous supper club or speakeasy is now the pop-up restaurant, and it is making a comeback from its former glory days. These mobile and temporary restaurants pop-up in unexpected locations and usually provide unusual and unique faire. You may find them at charity events, on rooftops and in old barns. Some up-and-coming chefs use this venue to attract investors or test a restaurant concept.
- Tiny House Cafes — With the growing popularity of tiny homes, thanks to HGTV, it comes as no surprise that tiny cafes would be entering mainstream. These custom-built tiny homes-turned-restaurants can go for under $100,000 and, being as they are on wheels, lets the restaurant go where the people are. These are very similar to food trucks except, of course, you can’t drive them. Because of this, they offer a little more space and can be exceptionally cute. An example is the SaltBox Café, a tiny home serving street-side breakfast in Portland, Maine, and getting rave reviews.
Kono Pizza began its foray into the extremely competitive pizza venue in 2012. They had high hopes for their cone-shaped pizza crust that was an easy-to-eat, on-the-go type of food. They started with brick and mortar locations only to find that, five years later, their projections had not met their mark. And that’s when they began thinking mobile.
Their traditional stores have now morphed into mobile carts, concession trailers, and kiosks thus allowing franchisees to go to the people instead of waiting for their fans to come to them. Think high traffic: festivals, fairs, airports, colleges, amusement parks, and big-time events. They are looking to reach 25 locations in the U.S. by the end of the year and have just recently added franchisees from Arizona, Texas, Virginia, Massachusetts and California. There are 130 Kono Pizza locations in 20 countries.
As casual dining establishments encounter more and more competition, differentiating themselves from the masses will be a primary goal. If you combine your organic and locally sourced produce and meats into delicious, creative, and unusual combinations, you will, unfortunately, be competing with probably half the restaurants in your area. Make these types of meals easily accessible, and you’ve got a winner.
Considering the current technological trends, customers patronizing these types of venues expect to be able to order and make the payment on their mobile app before they even enter the restaurant. Now, these mini-restaurants are taking it one step further by bringing the restaurant to their loyal patrons.