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Drawing in new customers means thinking beyond grocery sometimes. Competing against local quick service restaurants offers a whole new avenue to bring in customers for new reasons that can create a steady stream of revenue and help increase your loyal customer base.

Competing against quick service restaurants can feel like a hurdle at first. They operate differently, and it can require some changes to not just how you handle a foodservice program, but to the layout and structure of your store. Your customers should feel comfortable shopping with you like they would eat at any restaurant and that you provide a similar experience.

If you follow these four building blocks to compete against local QSRs, you’ll be well on your way:

1. Take the Time to Make Necessary Preparations

The first thing any grocery store needs to do to become a dine-in destination is to prepare the space and the supplies ahead of time. The first thing to do is add in dining space for customers. You need to add tables that are visible, near the foodservice program hot case, and visible, but not in the way to the point customers feel uncomfortable.

Another important step is to bring in the supplies necessary. Dine-in customers should be served on the appropriate plates with cutlery. It’s important to include some form of fountain drinks. This is in part due to what the customer is used to and what they want where they dine. It’s important to make them feel comfortable and like they can stop by your grocery store as they would any other restaurant.

2. Make it Easy to Order

Often deli departments sell some of their food by weight, and while that’s great for items that you make fresh for customers to take home for part of their dinner, it’s not the best way to serve from a foodservice program.

Instead of ordering by weight, sell in value meals. For fried chicken, this can mean a two tender combo with two sides, or a three tender combo with two sides. Give these combo meals numbers so that customers can come and order easily and quickly. It’s important to make your entire deli program experience remarkable and effortless.

3. Let Customers Know They Can Dine-In

A lot of your initial customers are going to come from your grocery customers. They will help spread the word about your foodservice program and dine-in options to draw in new customers. It’s vital to make sure that your grocery customers and deli program customers know that there is a new dine-in option. There are a couple of great ways to do this.

a. Signage

Make sure you include signage both at the front of your store as well as outside of it, letting your customers know about your new dine-in area and the delicious food they can order. It’s important to make sure that you post the signage in locations around the store where customers may miss the seating area. For your outdoor signage consider wording like "Dine In Seating Available."

When in doubt, make sure that you aren’t only posting one or two signs. Find out how many you need by seeing what journey your customer’s take through the store.

b. Ask If They’d Like to Dine-In or Carry-Out

When customers order, start by asking them if they’d like to dine-in or carry-out. Those customers that didn’t know you had a seating area now know, even if they decide to take it to go.

It’s also important to ask right away so you know whether they need a plate or to-go container.

4. Compete on Price

Foodservice programs can be a great way to draw in new customers while other grocery items drive the profitability in the store. This all depends on your goals, but if competition is a priority, it might make sense to sell your value meals at a lower price point to better compete against local QSRs and draw more market share to your business.

This is possible for grocery stores because the foodservice program isn’t the only thing driving revenue like it is for a QSR. It depends on your strategy and what’s comfortable for you. The right vendor will work with you to help identify what profit margins your location can work with and what’s possible in your franchise or service level agreement.

Identifying Different Customers

Dine-in and grab-and-go customers are very different people. While the same customer can shift between the two on any given visit, they generally behave differently depending on their mission.

Grab-and-go customers want to be in the store and out with food fast. They want it warm and they want it ready to go back home with them. There are those that are going to come in and order and go, and others that want something to grab when they are buying groceries. Often those that are also buying groceries may consider items in your mobile merchandising such as rotisserie chickens. For this reason, it can be important to make some fresh to-go meals during the dinner rush and keep them in your mobile merchandisers for people to easily take home with them.

Dine-in customers are likely going to be more laid back and are looking for somewhere to sit and talk with friends and family. They want an easy to grab meal but are going to linger for a while. They often may only come in to eat dinner without needing to grocery shop.

Bringing in New Customers

If you can focus on these four building blocks, you’ll be well on your way to increasing your local market share. A dine-in area allows you to serve an entirely new type of customer. They can help you expand your business and not just compete against the local QSRs, but the big box retail chains as well.

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