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.
Making Unmanned Attractive
Generally, the operators of these cafes either supply the fresh food from their own commissaries or contract for it. A few 365 Market locations are even using premium commercial branded items like Panera Bread sandwiches and Legal Seafoods soups, Caston says.
The concept also offers “a tremendous opportunity for manual foodservice operators to franchise their food production,” Caston notes. Certainly, it opens the possibilty for a management company to leverage existing production facilities to supply satellite sites.
The automated cafes pose challenges for traditional vending operators because "they often are not used to dealing with fresh foods," Caston notes, "In traditional vending, you just set up a machine, decide the product mix and make sure it keeps working and is restocked as needed."
But fresh food displays require more attention to optics and stock rotation. For example, while customers don't associate the last remaining packaged item in a vending machine with quality degradation, a picked over fresh food case with only a few items left communicates a negative message.
The company's automated hybrid cafes involve a capital investment typically around $25,000, Caston says, though that could be less if the operator already has some of the necessary equipment, such as display coolers, on hand.
The unit are popping up in not just low-population B&I locations, but also in healthcare, where they can offer an affordable foodservice alternative for evening and night shift staff. Some larger complexes are using the concept to provide economical satellite dining sites for staff far from a main cafe, with the main facility providing production and replenishment as needed.
Caston says he sees a potential market for automated cafes of some 50,000 locations nationwide based on site population statistics. He says the company's system is currently in some 2,200 locations.