Even with over 660,000 restaurants in the U.S., there is still plenty of demand for fresh dining experiences.
Containers can help lure those customers to your door, offering versatility, mobility, and efficiency without compromising your concept or your design.
Experiencing a busy season? Customers overflowing out the door with nowhere to go? Add seating outside or add another shipping container. In a slowdown, send back the seating container and save on space as well as cost. They’re also an intriguing setting to meet demand for the dark dining experiences that are juicing restaurant sales.
“It’s a fun, cool way to do seating,” says Richard F. Weil, CEO of National Restaurant Consultants of Denver, Colorado.
Containers are extremely helpful for staging pop-ups, a handy way to give your market a literal and figurative taste of what you’re all about. Get your pots, pans, and secret ingredients to and from your pop-up site quickly and efficiently with PODS containers, for example, which offer the storage a pop-up needs without compromising dining space. Whether you’re subleasing a space for a few months or just holding a one-day educational experience, containers can deliver your concept just about anywhere.
Weil suggests a semi-permanent installation that combines a seating container with an aging food truck, one whose kitchen is still in good operating order but whose traveling days are ending.
“That setup gives you something a little more advanced than a food truck, but not as much work as a brick-and-mortar restaurant,” he says.
Consider these other ways to put containers on your restaurant menu in ways that make sense for you, your staff, and your customers.
Survive the malls
Quick service restaurant (QSR) operators might consider how containers can help them with the next challenge to their segment of the food industry. (The National Restaurant Association defines QSR as locations where orders are placed at a cash register or kiosk and payment is made before dining begins.)
Shopping malls are struggling. That matters, because it also means that the food court is in jeopardy. A Credit Suisse report predicts that 20-25% of malls will close in the five-year period ending in 2022. A typical food court has at least a half-dozen concepts. In larger malls, that number can climb to 30 or more.
When malls close, they take a lot of low-maintenance QSR real estate with them. Containers can help a relocating QSR entrepreneur manage the transition out of a mall environment and into a new space. As a transportation and storage solution, a PODS container can be loaded on-demand with all of the durable equipment you’re taking to the new location, from pots and pans to treasured knives. Anything that doesn’t fit your new concept can be kept at a PODS storage center site.
Making the move from a mall setting to a stand-alone or strip-mall space will introduce new requirements you likely didn’t tangle with in the food court. In most malls, furniture, from customer tables and chairs to free-standing trash cans, are typically provided by the landlord. In your new digs, you might need to purchase seating and garbage containers yourself.
Keep ’em separated
Customers are more engaged with their meals than ever before, as countless Instagram foodies snapping their plates can attest. But they’re also more interested in the practices and processes that go into that plate than ever before.
“Millennial customers care more about ingredient sourcing, allergens, and nutrition than they did even a couple of years ago,” according to Astute Solutions, which provides a range of services to the restaurant industry.
A container can provide a tangible and visible way to keep ingredients, processes, or equipment from cross-contaminating. This can be especially useful for shelf-stable ingredients you’ll use quickly and which require no long-term storage. For example, if your concept includes fair-trade or GMO-free ingredients, setting them apart or serving them strictly out of a specialty container can help put the spotlight on your efforts.
“The consumer wants to know where their food is coming from,” Weil says.
Call in the experts
The growing awareness of containers as both practical accessories and distinctive visuals means that specialists are cropping up specifically to help businesses understand their options. Work with an architect who focuses on container-enhanced designs, or challenge your professional restaurant consultant to look beyond your brick-and-mortar footprint and present new ideas.
Dean Small, founder and CEO of Synergy Restaurant Consultants, points out the importance of overall visual appeal.
“You need great street visibility. Your container’s facade has to stand out for people to give it a try,” he says. “I’ve seen concepts that have a very international feel, that are full-blown bars, that actually look beautiful.”
However you choose to build out your restaurant concept with a container, remember to stay focused on the basics. Good food and good staff are the most important aspects of a successful restaurant. The fixed walls of a container can help you refine your ideas and experiment without the need for a costly buildout.
Don’t let space challenges hold you back from creating amazing meals for your customers.