BEDFORD HEIGHTS, Ohio -- Riser Foods, one of the first supermarket companies to put national brands in a food court, is now nearly out of the "food court" business altogether.
"We don't even call them food courts anymore," said Fred DiQuattro, director of deli, bakery and seafood at the 38-unit retailer-wholesaler that operates supermarkets under Rini-Rego and Stop-n-Shop banners.
The chain, which three years ago installed a Supreme Court -- the pioneering effort to bundle national fast-food brand kiosks together in a supermarket setting -- has developed its own programs with its own chefs. The company still offers hot food and seating in some of its stores, but it is putting emphasis on fresh, chilled foods to go.
"A cold presentation is so much more appealing to the customer. And it gives us [the] opportunity to be creative. That's where we would test a new entree, for example [because shrink would be less of a problem]. If it does well in that case, we would add it to our hot programs," DiQuattro said.
The program features chefs clad in chefs' hats and jackets talking up the products at each store that offers them.
"We hired a man last year with restaurant experience to develop the program and tested it in one store first. Now we're doing this at six out of the 11 Fresh to Go shops, which we have in our new format stores. We have chefs at those locations," DiQuattro said.
"We offer six basic entrees every day and rotate eight recipes. Of the rotating recipes, the stores can choose which ones fit their local market," he added.
Riser has begun to suggest meals on menu boards in all of its stores. In another effort to make things easy for customers, the company recently began offering all its side dishes at the same price: $3.99 a pound.
"Our customers told us, in surveys we conducted, that that's what they want," DiQuattro said. Whenever the company demos a product, which is often, it takes the opportunity to ask the customer to fill out a short questionnaire at the demo table.
DiQuattro said the chilled entrees and vegetables in a service case is the route Riser will continue on from here. So far, sales have met the company's expectations, he said.
"When we put in the Supreme Court [which included such national branded food-service powerhouses as Bennigan's and Chi Chi's] three years ago, we did it because we wanted to be at the pinnacle of what supermarkets were doing. But it didn't work," he said.
"I've come to believe that offering five or six different kiosks in a regular supermarket is not a good concept. If you do that, you're typically trying to offer all the things a restaurant does. Instead, I think if you can give your customers fresh, good quality food, that's meeting what they want. I really don't believe they want to sit down and eat dinner in a supermarket."
While not dismissing the potential for success that hot foods and seating can offer in some locales, DiQuattro insisted that the right criteria are crucial. Those criteria include heavy traffic and close proximity to an urban shopping center or office complexes.