NEW YORK -- In its continued rapid expansion, Boston Market has rolled out a new service format here designed to move customers through its lines faster at peak hours.
The fast-growing home meal replacement chain's New York area franchisee introduced the new unit, which de-emphasizes the company's cafeteria-style format for a more traditional fast food restaurant model.
All new stores will be configured in the new format, and existing stores will retool, said a company spokeswoman.
The new format store reverses Boston Market's current meal ordering system, making the process more like a traditional quick serve restaurant. Customers at the reconfigured stores will first select their meals and pay for them at the cash register, then walk past the hot food line and wait while their orders are assembled.
In the current system, customers walk through the serving line, selecting items as they go, while an employee assembles the order; the customers then pay at the end of the line.
Boston Market created the new format, which had been tested in markets in the Pacific Northwest, partially because its operations in downtown urban areas were sometimes struggling to keep up with customer demand, particularly at lunchtime.
"One of the reasons why it took us so long to build more restaurants in New York is because it was taking so much longer to get our customers through the serving line, two or three times [longer] than our other stores," said Kate Paxton, spokeswoman for Boston Market in New York. "So we went back to the drawing board to design a way to get customers through the line without losing the one-on-one interaction between customer and server."
On opening day at the Manhattan location, however, the customer demand was too strong for even the 25-plus workers on hand.
By 1 p.m., the line snaked through the store and out the front door, and numerous potential customers were apparently put off by the line's length. It took about 10 minutes for people on line to get to the registers and order, but once items were ordered food was served quickly.
To speed service, store operators even placed an expediter at the front of the line to hurry waiting customers to open registers. The bottleneck, however, seemed to occur at the four cash registers, where employees were hard-pressed to keep up with the traffic.
The store had fewer seats than most Boston Markets -- between 35 and 40 -- but was otherwise similar in decor and set-up. The display, about 10 feet long and containing 10 hot and four cold sides in addition to serving as the workstation, was situated between the registers and the spot where customers picked up their completed orders.
Rotisseries were packed with roasting chickens, each meal was prepared in full view, and customers helped themselves to beverages. Even though the cash registers stayed busy throughout lunch, the tables never filled up, indicating most of the meals were being consumed away from the store.
The store is the first of a forthcoming rapid expansion in the New York area announced recently by Robert Anarumo, chief executive officer of the New York area franchise developer, BC New York.
Another store will open in Manhattan in early November, to be followed by 100 in the city limits and 180 more in the metropolitan New York area over the next eight years. Previously, there was only one Boston Market in Manhattan, with most of the other city stores in Queens.
Companywide, the aggressive Boston Market expansion continues. With approximately 900 Boston Market stores now operating, the Golden, Colo.-based company is pushing hard to open 300 to 350 new stores in 1997 as part of a 2,700 new-store push in the United States in the next five to seven years. Boston Market plans to have approximately 3,700 stores operating by 2003.