Boston Market opened its first new restaurant in seven years in Hialeah, Fla., this week, marking a new era of growth that will include licensed units on U.S. Army bases and a mall food court for the first time.
The Golden, Colo.-based chain has suffered shrinkage since it was acquired by private-equity firm Sun Capital Partners in 2007. At the time, the chain had about 630 locations, but underperforming units and those in poor trade areas were later closed. Now the chain includes 462 units nationwide.
Over the past three years, however, Boston Market has been engineering a turnaround that began with a rebranding effort in 2011 dubbed “America’s Kitchen Table.” That effort focused on improving the guest experience with meals served on real plates with cutlery, upgraded serving stations, and a greater emphasis on hospitality.
A look at Boston Market's new unit
With new growth in mind, the new restaurant in Hialeah carries the rebranding effort even further at a time when the chain appears to be gaining momentum; August marked the rotisserie chicken chain’s 36th consecutive month of positive same-store sales.
George Michel, Boston Market’s chief executive, predicted that same-store sales results for 2013 will show the largest increase in three years. The company ended 2012 with a same-store sales increase of 6.5 percent after recording an 8.5-percent increase in 2011.
The new location in Hialeah is the first of five units the company plans to open this year, Michel said. The chain has targeted Jacksonville, Fla., as the next market — a city where Boston Market once had restaurants that were later converted to McDonald’s.
The chain is also working on what would be the first-ever food court location, though Michel said he could not reveal the location yet.
In addition, Boston Market has signed a 10-year agreement with the Army & Air Force Exchange Service to operate licensed locations at military bases around the world, but primarily in the U.S. “We think our product will work well because it provides them with comfort foods and homestyle meals,” said Michel. “How great will it be for them to be able to offer Boston Market meals on Thanksgiving.”
Michel said Boston Market is looking to build a presence in airports, and both the nontraditional food court and licensing experience could help open those doors.
The chain is also expecting delivery this month of its first Boston Market food truck, a unit that will be used initially at the company headquarters for special events and fundraising. Over the holiday season, however, the truck may be called in for catering.
Whether or not Boston Market will franchise is still to be determined. “We’re still working on our brand,” said Michel. “Traditional franchising we’d want to look at in 2014, after we’ve successfully opened a number of restaurants.”
Improving efficiency, decor
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The new restaurant in Hialeah includes décor upgrades, and it also features a new layout that uses a new operating system.
With the new design, more aspects of food preparation are brought to the forefront, so guests can watch their meal being prepared as they walk the service line and interact with servers to customize their plate, salad or sandwich.
Meats are carved right on the line, rather than in a back kitchen, and sides and other dishes are prepared in full view of guests. As before, guests pay at the end of the line, and dishes are delivered to the table.
The new unit has digital menu boards, which will be part of the “next generation” design, Michel said, as will energy efficiencies, like LED lighting, paperless hand dryers, and high-tech systems for measuring the temperature of food in the refrigerator/freezer as well as the climate in the dining room, depending on guest count.
The flow of guest traffic has also been choreographed to more efficiently direct people to the service line entrance, Michel said. And décor elements highlight the quality and freshness of food.
The company has been testing elements of the redesign over the past two years.
Efficiencies have resulted in a slightly smaller footprint, Michel noted. Hialeah is just under 3,000-square feet — about 400 square feet smaller than the typical Boston Market — which will reduce occupancy costs and will allow the chain to invest a bit more in the décor.
In April, Boston Market added the option of ribs to the menu, and the new protein accounts for about 11-percent to 12-percent of sales, even when not being promoted by national TV ads. New commercials began airing this week promoting ribs as a permanent menu addition.
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