What is in this article?:
- Automated Café Concept Fills B&I Niche
- Making Unmanned Attractive
A hybrid vending/manual foodservice model lets limited populations receive quality dining options.
Imagine this scenario. Customers come into a servery, make their selections of fresh packaged sandwiches, salads and even full meals, then check out quickly and efficiently. Sounds like a well-run manual foodservice operation, right?
Perhaps not an optimal model, and certainly not the traditional one. But in an increasingly decentralized business world, with smaller onsite populations, such a model could well be an important option in the future foodservice mix. And 365 Retail Markets is betting it will be.
The company markets a hybrid automated cafe system that allows sites with populations in the 400-700 range to offer higher quality onsite foodservice than was traditionally possible, at least without significant subsidies.
And, because the 365 Markets system allows a site to offer fresh foods in attractive retail settings, it offers an upgrade over traditional vending. Rather than displaying the selections behind plastic windows, the automated cafe merchadises fresh sandwiches, salads and other perishable items in standard curtained display cases and coolers, similar to grab and go displays in manual foodservice outlets.
"Our system occupies a space about the same as that traditionally allocated to vending [generally 400-1,000 sq.ft.], but without the 'wheel of death' that turns many customers off," says 365 Markets COO Matt Caston. "We offer non-vendable fresh foods like yogurt parfaits and cheese sticks in more than 60 percent of our locations."
About a third of a typical 365 Market location's sales come from fresh foods, meaning larger margins.
The appeal and convenience of these automated cafes has also resulted in more participation and higher check averages. "It captures a portion of the population who weren't customers before when there was only vending," says 365 Markets CEO Joseph Hessling, adding that the higher participation levels and check averages contribute to revenue increase as high as 400 percent over traditional vending.
The 365 Markets system has already been licensed by a number of high-profile vending and food management companies, including Canteen Vending Services, AVI Food Systems and Sanese Services. These companies generally market it under their own program names and adapt those iterations that make most sense for their clients.
One of 365 Market's big pluses is that it can be adapted to differents kinds of environments. In its most basic form, it serves as a 24-hour retail market with an unmanned display area and automated checkout monitored by camera security. These markets can offer a variety of selections ranging from traditional vending oriented products like packaged snacks and beverages to fresher foods that require more vigilant monitoring and replenishment.
A more elaborate option is a cafe that offers staff service from behind counters but leaves the POS automated. That allows manual foodservice to be offered with less labor and more convenience for the customer becasue the checkout unit processes transactions quickly. Customers scan bar codes to log their purchases and pay with commercial credit or dedicated debit accounts, or with cash. They can also use a thumbprint scan, which also offers a quick and almost foolproof validation.