Little space, big opportunity

May 4, 2017

Restaurants can drive incremental spending with effective snack displays at checkout.

An adage about grocery shopping admonishes consumers to “Never visit the supermarket on an empty stomach.”

Hunger, the reasoning goes, will drive shoppers to load their baskets with items bought on impulse.

Lessons From Retail Infographic

Fortunately for restaurant operators, most of their customers are visiting precisely because they are hungry. This makes them prime candidates to purchase last minute add-ons such as cookies, chips, pretzels, bars or other grab-and-go fare that help them round out their meal occasions and drive higher check averages for operators.

Given the layout constraints of most foodservice environments, however, operators need to invest some care and planning into how they merchandise the limited but highly valuable space they have available for retail-style displays of grab-and-go snack items.

“In general, foodservice is drastically underutilizing the register/checkout area,” says Jonathan Raduns, a consultant with Cherry Hill, New Jersey-based Merchandise Food.

Unlike the checkout lanes at supermarkets and other retail formats, the cashier areas at most restaurants are not designed for impulse merchandising. Operators need to be creative in merchandising these areas, experts say.

“I would say the most dynamic foodservice groups that are using that impulse area are driving average guest checks upward,” says Raduns.

In order to maximize impulse sales, he suggests that operators deploy merchandising fixtures such as S-hooks, baskets or other vessels that attach to shelves to effectively add display space — as Starbucks does in its stores.

“We are adding those to traditional foodservice outlets to get any additional space that we can,” says Raduns.

One operator agrees that Starbucks provides a strong template for snack-merchandising strategies.

“You need more than just a bag of chips,” he says. “If you look at Starbucks, they do an awesome job with their merchandising. Even that small, clear rack they have right in front of the register with seven or eight items — they always have a lot of the same types of snacks there, but they are also always mixing it up and bringing in new things. They might always have a mint, but the mint changes.”

Starbucks and others enjoy success with their snack offerings because they include a variety of items, from fresh baked goods to packaged items that range from healthy to indulgent. A typical grab-and-go offering might include granola bars, trail mix, jerky, cookies, madeleines and chocolate bars, with a steady influx of new items joining the mix.

A varied assortment that includes on-trend items and a mix of both familiar and new snacking options helps satisfy the needs of a broad array of customers.

The operator who admires Starbucks also suggests scoping out local convenience stores for snack-merchandising ideas.

“C-stores have snack merchandising down pat,” he said. “That’s their bread and butter.”

With a small amount of space available for impulse merchandising of snack items, it likely doesn’t make sense for operators to engage in the kind of detailed data analysis that retailers employ to optimize their product assortments. Instead, experts suggest relying on suppliers and distributors for insights about what products might appeal to their customers.

Think about décor

Diane Chiasson, president of Toronto-based Chiasson Consultants, says restaurant operators need to think about snack merchandising in terms of a design that is compatible with the overall experience they are seeking to create within their establishments.

“Food merchandising is an art and science together,” Chiasson says. “It includes the lighting and everything else.

“You eat food with your eyes first,” she says.

David Kincheloe, president of Denver-based National Restaurant Consultants, says a mining-themed restaurant he worked with utilizes gold pans and whiskey barrels as merchandising platforms.

“You want to consider the general décor of your restaurant space,” he says. “You want to have something that blends in, and makes the product stand out.”

In addition, Kincheloe says, it is important to keep those merchandising displays well-stocked and well-maintained to ensure that the products look appealing to the customer. For some items this could be achieved by putting false bottoms in displays, he suggests.

Price information

Providing price information around snack displays is an often overlooked area in the foodservice channel, in part because operators lack the shelf pricing systems and fixtures that make this an important tool in the retail environment, says Raduns of Merchandise Food.

Clearly communicating product price — including any special combo pricing that may apply to snack items — makes purchasing more convenient for diners on the go.

“You have to have the proper information around your snacks,” says Chiasson. “This is not the time to hide the price because I as a customer don’t have time.”

Raduns notes that branded, grab-and-go snacks with relatively low price points can be ideal impulse purchases at checkout.

“While people might not be open to buying a $3 or $4 mousse, or rice pudding, or piece of pie, they may be willing to pay $1 to $2.50 for a [branded snack],” says Raduns. “It could be something to take with them to enjoy a sweet indulgence after a meal.

“It is a way to capture another small purchase where it otherwise would have been a lost opportunity,” he says.