Progressive Grocer

Grocerant February 2017

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27 SOLUTIONS FEBRUARY 2017 balance comfort with how long they want people to sit at a table," says Starr. "You don't want to put a 90-minute chair in a 30-minute restaurant. You want a 20-minute chair." Starr says Panera, which has focused on getting customers in and keeping them there, is now rethinking its strategy. "Making the environment too comfortable can adversely affect long-term business," he says. "Panera is looking at how they can create different zones within the space to include a lounging spot where customers can have coffee and read the paper, while another section can serve to keep people moving." Two-seater options Experts agree that the most flexible options for casual restaurant seating are two-top tables, counters with stools and community tables, which have become more popular recently. "Two tops are more flexible than four tops," says Karen Malody, a foodservice consultant based in Portland, Ore. "ere's nothing more discouraging for a restaurant oper- ator than to see someone sitting alone at a four top because there's no place else to sit." "e biggest mistake I see in fast casual is too many four- top tables," agrees John Knight, principal of Allendale, N.J.- based Maverick Consulting. "Since 80 percent of customers coming into fast casual settings are either in groups of one or two, four-top tables should be kept to a minimum." Communal vibes Communal tables also are being used more frequently as Americans become more comfortable dining next to people they don't know. "Community tables are extremely popular, especially among millennials," says Malody. "A communal table can accommodate people in a group Some AJ's Fine Foods locations in Arizona offer year-round outdoor patio dining. Outdoor dining is fast becoming a draw for some super- market grocerants, such as Chandler, Ariz.-based AJ's Fine Foods, which offers several locations with outdoor patios that diners can enjoy year-round. But even in locations where all-year outdoor dining isn't an option, retailers can still take advantage of seasonal spaces. "Stew Leonard's [a grocery retailer in Connecticut and New York] creates inviting outdoor dining areas with picnic tables during the spring and summer seasons," says Arlene Spiegel, founder of Arlene Spiegel & Associates consulting firm in New York City. "They even offer lobster dinners, so it be- comes a real event to take the family shopping and then have dinner at Stew Leonard's." Outdoor café tables in two- and four-top configurations are best for establishing a casual outdoor dining ambience, says Spiegel. "To maximize the opportunity of an outdoor dining space, it's not enough to throw some tables on the sidewalk," adds Steve Starr, president of Starr Design in Charlotte, N.C. "Retailers really need to create outdoor rooms that are covered, and use green [privacy] screens to define the space." Dining al fresco "A communal table . . . is also comfortable for single diners." — Arlene Spiegel, foodservice consultant

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