For establishments that “sell food on the side,” it pays to think more like a restaurant                

Let’s say this first.

If you own or manage a pub, a location-based entertainment (LBE) venue like a bowling alley, or even something like a retail kiosk, and you don’t already sell food, you ought to give it serious consideration.   

In an era when restaurants are looking to add value in a hyper-competitive market, your lead offering already gives you a leg up in many respects. But, more than that, food instantly expands your market and sales potential for a variety of reasons. 

  • Food converts an LBE’s non-participating spectators or the pub’s non-drinkers into paying customers.
  • Food keeps these and all hungry patrons in the door, rather than give them a reason to leave for a restaurant. And . . .
  • Food keeps patrons in the door for longer periods of time, expanding sales overall.

The fact of the matter is, niche operations that serve food find it generates between 35% to 60% of their revenue. And, yet, even these businesses can take their foodservice to another level.

The key is to appropriately look at food sales like a restauranteur. That doesn’t mean deemphasizing management attention or inputs into the core business but, rather, to apply a different strategy to the foodservice segment.

Yes, making a greater commitment to foodservice can be intimidating for niche food-sales operations, but it doesn’t have to be. And that’s the beauty of this 5-part strategy.

1. Take Food Quality Seriously 

When food sales are weak for a niche operation and, in spite of the statistic above, not a significant share of revenue, it can be easy to dismiss food’s importance in the business model.

The risk in doing that is greater than anything surrounding an opportunity lost.

And, yes, there is tremendous opportunity lost, given that consumer demand for higher quality food extends across all retail channels. Take convenience stores, for example, which have traditionally been at the lower end of the quality spectrum. Today, “taste & nutrition” is now the c-store’s top driving trend.

Quality matters. For any foodservice operation trying to maximize revenue.

But poor food quality also has a potential to do greater damage than assumed for a business that “just serves food on the side.”

A great article on this broader subject—very much worth the read, even if somewhat dated—explains perfectly how poor foodservice affects an LBE’s total revenues.

Worse, poor foodservice can damage an operation’s brand, and kill repeat business, especially if food quality is so bad, it’s the “peak” in a patron’s peak-end rule assessment of their customer experience.

2. Keep Your Menu Simple       

It might seem like this one was written specifically for the niche operation intimidated by foodservice, but it’s actually right out of today’s restaurant playbook.

Even the more established and higher-end food-only businesses are looking at this tactic as a means to reduce cost by simplifying both inventory and prep complexity for kitchen staff. Not to mention, restaurants are finding consumers don’t like to be overwhelmed with choices.

Keeping the menu simple is a perfect recipe for the niche food-sales operation. Just like the restauranteur, build your simple menu on the foundation of the staple sales performers. However, that said . . .

3. Dabble in Menu Innovation  

Don’t be afraid to get creative or introduce limited-time-offer (LTO) ideas.

This might seem out of the realm when food isn’t your core business, but unique and even “signature” menu items that, by themselves, draw in repeat and referral customers exist all across the niche food-sales channel. Minor league baseball is famous for this.

Not only do original menu items command a higher margin, but they become part of the “experience” that builds brand. 

4. Emphasize Versatility When Acquiring Food Equipment        

Most niche food-sales operations, by definition, don’t have a dedicated commercial kitchen space, nor the will, intent or business plan to justify such an investment. But, again, applying a restaurant strategy to increase sales and profits doesn’t require this kind of commitment.

The market provides a world of options in commercial foodservice equipment designed for smaller spaces, including cooking units that require no ventilation.

The key to optimizing a niche food-sales menu and ROI is to conduct a thorough search for compact equipment that is also versatile—such as, say, a single chopper that can handle most any produce item or a heating unit that can both rethermalize and cook.   

5. Determine the Food Element of the Total Customer Experience        

Even though the restauranteur knows food quality is the top business priority, they also know the other elements of the experience—presentation, service, atmosphere, cleanliness—are all critical factors as well.

Niche food-sales operations that recognize the value of improving the foodservice segment of the business should maintain the same perspective—granted, to a degree.

Should a bowling alley include parsley on its plates and start bussing tables? Not necessarily. But a reasonable and practical emphasis on the foodservice element of the total customer experience nonetheless pays dividends—especially if that emphasis exceeds a bowler’s expectations.