Where there's change, there's opportunity.
And, as it turns out, Boston Market restaurants are changing in ways that could spell opportunity for supermarkets' home-meal replacement strategies. So let's take a look at what is going on at Boston Market.
Boston Market has a problem, although maybe a good one to have: The restaurant's cafeteria-style front end simply doesn't lend itself to efficient service and customer movement, nor are the overhead menu boards quickly comprehensible.
Worse than that, the number of payment points seem insufficient and, because they are parallel to the serving line, they are difficult for customers to access.
In all cases, these structural weaknesses are exacerbated many times over when urban locations are opened, simply because the number of people to be served is magnified.
Can Boston Market solve these problems? If not, it won't be for lack of trying.
The Colorado-based franchiser has been tinkering with its payment processes at locations in the Pacific Northwest and in New York City.
The idea in the newest outlets is to take payment from customers first, then send them down the serving line to wait while their orders are assembled. All Boston Markets opened from this time forward are to follow this payment and service system, and existing locations will be retrofitted. These changes at Boston Market were the subject of a news article in SN's Oct. 21 issue.
What will these seemingly subtle changes mean to supermarkets that find themselves in competition with a Boston Market, or which are rolling out an HMR strategy?
Here are some of the answers:
Requiring payment in advance of receiving meals makes Boston Market seem more like a conventional fast-food outlet. Assuming this quick-serve trend continues -- as it will at Boston Market and other HMR providers -- formats in competition with these could leverage advantage out of making sure personalized service is offered.
Boston Market customers may also find it more difficult to make a selection since they will be obliged to pay before they can take a good look at the serving line. A competitive format might prosper by setting up a system that can efficiently keep payment at the end of the process.
As Boston Market strives to become quick-serve, there will be more pressure on customers to make their menu selections fast. A competing format could enjoy success by making menu selection more convenient, such as by posting the menu on electronic screens along the customer queue. Maybe such terminals could become customer-operated selection devices.
Finally, all the angst about speedy service suggests that a call- or fax-ahead service could prosper by eliminating waiting altogether. Many quick-serve vendors accept phoned-in orders, but an aggressive promotion of such services to nearby homes and offices could be a good method for a competing format.
These are just a few of the niches that might open to the advantage of supermarkets in a changing market.