WEST DES MOINES, Iowa -- Hy-Vee is expanding its use of casual-dining sections in a bid to capture more of the dinner daypart. The latest installment is part of a new store in Milan, Ill.
"Even though a lot of the stores do well with evening meals, it's probably our biggest potential for growth," said Ruth Comer, assistant vice president of communications for the 122-store chain. "It's part of the reason for the upscaling and redesign of the dining area."
While just about every Hy-Vee store has a sit-down area for on-premise consumption, these new footprints reflect more of a restaurant ambience, with muted colors of gray, beige and gold; upholstered banquettes; lighting from wall sconces and drop-down pendants; and more upscale fixtures. This is the third such seating area in the chain. The first opened in a store in Omaha, Neb., in January.
"We're gradually working this into all of our new stores, and this will likely go into all new construction and remodels we do this year," Comer told SN.
Along with the spiffier accommodations, the number of seats has increased slightly from the old-style food court arrangement. Comer estimated the new areas have seating for about 200 people.
In another departure from the ordinary, customers at the new stores pay as they leave the dining area, just like a regular restaurant. Everything is still self-service, however. There are a number of options to choose from, including Chinese and Italian food; a soup and salad bar; made-to-order sandwiches; and selections from Hy-Vee Kitchen, the chain's fresh meals concept. All stations are operated by Hy-Vee, and franchise names are absent from the operation.
The seating area itself is adjacent to the store's deli and the Hy-Vee Kitchen. For the dinner hour, special pricing is in effect. Customers can order selectively -- a la carte -- or take advantage of a pay-one-price/all-you-can-eat buffet option. Prices for that vary by store.
Hy-Vee already enjoys a strong lunch and breakfast business. The latter especially is a rarity in the supermarket industry these days.
"Breakfast is very big," Comer said. "We do a lot of business on weekends, of course. During the week, you see more business people, students and retired people in there."
The Milan unit is one of the retailer's new "21st century" stores, according to company officials. At 68,500 square feet, it is nearly twice as large as the original Milan location, which was several blocks away and was closed. Hy-Vee originally moved into the area in the 1980s and now operates 10 stores in the so-called Quad-Cities market, which rests on the banks of the Mississippi River and shares a population of 400,000. The region is made up of Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa and Moline, East Moline and Rock Island in Illinois.