How to Build a Hot Food Program | ConvenienceStoreNews
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    How to Build a Hot Food Program

    By Maureen Azzato
    Breakfast is the best meal to consider when launching a hot foods program

    The reason for that is most convenience stores already have a strong and loyal morning customer base they can leverage and entice to try something new, according to the Convenience Store News for the Single Store Owner How To Crew of experts. Breakfast programs are also fairly inexpensive to execute, and a decent program can be developed with just five or six items.

    The best way to begin is to test two or three breakfast sandwiches with shoppers and determine which they like best and what sales levels to expect, according to Tim Powell, a member of the CSNews for the Single Store Owner How To Crew and a foodservice consultant with THINK Research & Consulting. “The key to keeping hot foods relevant is to offer two to three mainstream products,” he said, “such as a ham and egg biscuit, sausage biscuit with cheese, and/or an egg burrito along with seasonal limited-time offers.

    Once a hot breakfast program is established, it is then easier to expand into hot lunch and snack items, our experts agree. The idea is to start small, build a strong foundation and use the breakfast program as a building block. You should begin by knowing what you want to achieve in the end, but realize that it will take time, focus and patience to get there.

    It’s important to understand what your customers want before building the menu, so be sure to ask them. As a single-store owner, you are extremely close to your customers and should rely on them for advice and feedback.

    From the outset, it’s also critical to decide how you want to serve your customers hot food –– grab and go or made to order –– because that will affect the type of items offered, the cooking and holding methods used, and the equipment that needs to be purchased. At the beginner level, most experts recommend a grab-and-go hot food program until execution is flawless.

    “Keep it simple. Get bored with the basics first,” one How To Crew expert said, noting that grab and go is ideal because it requires “minimal touch” and is a great way to begin to incorporate a foodservice culture into your store.

    Also “examine the state of your store with a critical eye on cleanliness,” said Donna Hood Crecca of foodservice consultancy Technomic Inc., another member of the How To Crew. “Restaurant [level] cleanliness is crucial, as it fosters consumer confidence that this is an establishment from which they can purchase hot foods.”

    The Lunch Daypart

    After breakfast is perfected, then consider the lunch daypart and investigate what sells in your local area. The burger seems to be the beginner hot lunch menu item that most experts recommend because it’s easy to execute and many varieties can be sold by using different cheeses, toppings, sauces and breads. A high-quality fried chicken patty is the second easiest hot sandwich to execute, and also popular with consumers.

    Easy sides and snack items to add to the menu might include fries, mac and cheese bites, or onion rings that can be either cooked in an oven or fryer, depending upon the type of product purchased. Soups, stews and chili are other easy hot items to add that simply require reheating, and proper merchandising and rotation.

    Single-store owners who have advanced foodservice programs should utilize limited-time offers to drive trial of new items and differentiate their menus. Ultimately, the goal is to develop a foodservice program with some unique items that drive traffic to your store.

    Once the breakfast and lunch dayparts are perfected with both hot and cold food offerings, single-store owners can then transfer some of that success over into the dinner daypart. Although few in the convenience store industry have figured out the best approach to dinner, one thing is certain: A strong hot food program will help build the evening business, especially if your store currently has strong evening foot traffic.

    The Right Equipment

    As is true with all foodservice programs — hot and cold — consistent execution is vitally important. Putting the right systems in place, focusing on training and buying the proper equipment — and using and maintaining it correctly — will all support strong in-store execution.

    When it’s time to select equipment, one of the most important considerations is functional intent. In other words, how will your product be cooked and held? Will you be rethermalizing already-cooked food? Do you need moist holding equipment (for hot sandwich meat components such as meatballs or sausage), or dry holding equipment for fried foods so they remain crispy? Will you need both?

    Because the menu drives everything –– from ingredient procurement and inventory to equipment selection –– be entirely sure about the scope of your menu and how you plan to execute before purchasing any equipment. With space consideration in a c-store so critical, it’s also important to find space-efficient equipment that is versatile and can be used across many menu items.

    By Maureen Azzato
    • About Maureen Azzato
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