Made-to-Order Foodservice Choice Makes the World Go Round
By Meline Beach
Customization is a competitive factor in today’s c-store foodservice programs. Younger generations, in particular, want the option to order their meal just the way they want it.
Made-to-order foodservice takes on many forms. Some programs provide a range of ingredients and let the customer build their entire dish and some offer menu options that can be tweaked. Choosing condiments to key ingredients, it seems a menu is simply a point of reference.
“Our menu is 100 per cent customizable,” says Lynne Beaudry, restaurant manager of the Pointe Au Baril Shell Station. The popular c-store gas station along the Trans Canada Highway in Northern Ontario attracts both new and loyal customers. “Our made-to-order sandwiches come with a variety of choice.”
In terms of bread, Beaudry offers whole wheat, seven-grain, sour dough, Kaisers, croissants, tortilla wraps, dark rye, white, and light rye – the last of which are the most popular. As the bread is made and sliced on location, customers can even choose its thickness.
In terms of cheese, Beaudry offers provolone, American (slice), cheddar, Havarti, mozzarella and Swiss, which is the most requested cheese for a made-to-order sandwich. Their well-dressed sandwiches include a sauce, such as mustard, available in regular, Dijon, honey or bold, as well as mayonnaise, hot sauce, barbecue sauce, 1000 Islands or Ranch dressing.
The ‘usual’ is sometimes unusual
Beaudry, who has worked in C&G foodservice for over 20 years enjoys getting to know her regular customers and offering a foodservice product that’s customized to their preferences. Hearing “hey Lynne, I’ll have the usual” is music to her ears. Sometimes, the ‘usual’ is highly unusual in terms of customization. Lynne recalls one customer in particular who orders a sandwich with 1000 Islands dressing and Frank’s Red-Hot sauce with a dash of horse radish. Another two customers frequently ask for burnt toast for their fried egg or Western sandwich.
“Burnt toast smokes up our kitchen and draws a lot of attention,” says Beaudry, who has to toast the bread three times to achieve the right level of burnt. “While it’s off the wall, that’s for sure, but if that’s what our customers want, then we’ll do it.”
In the spirit of customer service, Beaudry goes as far as making a requested meal that may not even be on the menu.
“If the store is not crazy busy, we’ll make pancakes and French toast by request,” says Beaudry. “We do our best to accommodate everybody as best we can.”
Country Style and MR. SUB quick serve restaurants are fully familiar with made-to-order foodservice and their express menu in the c-store channel is no different. Customers are encouraged to select their meats, toppings and condiments on a made-to-order basis.
“Made-to-order foodservice is an opportunity to be truly customer centric in the c-store channel,” says Karen Weldman, vice-president of new business development, Express Brands at MTY Group. “Country Style and MR. SUB Express menu offerings consists of freshly made breakfast and sub sandwiches that are completely made-to-order. For Country Style, we offer a fully stocked deli counter where customers can choose items to add to their breakfast and lunch sandwiches, such as additional cheese or vegetables. The same goes for MR. SUB, where the customer can add additional deli items.”
Having the ability to choose how a meal is made allows the customer to accommodate their dietary restrictions and food preferences.
“Because of our ability to customize every order, our customers are able to create food products that meet their dietary restrictions, such as lactose intolerance and vegetarianism,” says Weldman.
Customer service, training and speed
With customization comes a high degree of training and customer service. As speed is a critical factor in c-store foodservice, it’s extremely important that staff behind the counter are not only friendly and willing to please a customer’s customization requests, but that they do so in an expedient manner.
“Our operations team are constantly working on speed of service training initiatives to ensure the customer moves through the order process from prep to pick up as quickly and efficiently as possible,” says Weldman. “Both Country Style and MR. SUB’s training requirements are extensive (four to five weeks) and emphasize that staff understand how to cater to customers who have specific requests while also ensuring the experience is positive for the customer.”
Beaudry credits staff training as a key component of their foodservice success. While their c-store menu is extensive, Beaudry insists that staff offer alternatives so no plate leaves the kitchen empty.
“If a customer doesn’t want bread with their meal, we can offer additional vegetables, or if they ask for a roast beef sandwich, we know to offer options, starting with the bread and then condiments,” says Beaudry. “In the beginning it may take a few minutes to drill down a customer’s order, but our staff get the hang of it fairly quickly and the customer is happy to have their meal exactly as they like it.”
Customization has its challenges as well. Too many choices with a made-to-order approach can complicate the ordering process for staff and create confusion in the kitchen for the cook.
“Three minutes can easily turn to five in preparing a menu item,” says Judson Flom, co-owner and operator of Leslieville Pumps, a downtown Toronto-based gas station, c-store and restaurant. “Success depends on a highly trained staff to ask the right questions and drill down to achieve the customer’s exact order – especially when it comes to meeting dietary restrictions.”
Leslieville Pumps has a training booklet that describes every detail about the menu, filled with diagrams for each menu option. For example, if a customer is vegan, it’s important to know which breads contain egg or if a customer has celiac disease, know which items contain gluten.
“It can get quite complicated as we aim to be as efficient as possible with time and labour,” says Flom, whose customers for the most part order from the menu as is. “Customization is not something we actively promote, though we are willing to make modifications to menu items on an individual and on request basis.”
While he hasn’t received too many unusual requests, Flom does recall an odd order for a fried egg on poutine or chicken fingers in a sandwich.
Odd or not, a customer’s positive experience and word of mouth referral is the best form of advertising that money can’t buy. Whether licensed through franchised brands or in-house, any foodservice program is a financial commitment. A successful made-to-order foodservice program takes quality, consistency and excellent customer service. All of these factors will strengthen reputation, build loyalty as a food destination and drive profitability.
Meline Beach is a Toronto-based communications practitioner and frequent contributor to Convenience & Carwash Canada. In addition to freelance writing, Meline provides communications and public relations support to businesses across Canada. She can be reached at www.mlbcomms.ca