There are so many things to consider when designing a new convenience store or retrofitting an existing store to accommodate foodservice. Space, costs, electrical capacity, lighting, branding, in-store traffic flow — the list goes on and on.
There are key elements, however, to consider no matter which option you are undertaking. New ground-up constructions are simpler because you can design a store completely to fit your foodservice program needs, but many convenience stores do not have that luxury and will have to figure out how to retrofit — if they can —existing stores for foodservice.
No matter if you are planning to retrofit an existing store or build a brand-new one, our Convenience Store News How To Crew experts were near unanimous in their top recommendation, which may perplex some. Their advice: focus on the bathrooms. Make them big, clean, well-stocked and impressive because it speaks volumes to the customer about the rest of the store. Not to mention, you can’t compete with quick-service restaurants if you don’t have spotless bathrooms inside the stores. Some nice-to-have features include hand air driers, pressure washer cleaning, sealed non-breakable light fixtures and large floor drains to accommodate power/steam cleaning, according to Larry Miller, a foodservice consultant and principle of Miller Management & Consulting Services, who is also a member of the CSNews How To Crew.
“I also recommend installing a customer-activated button alarm that can be pressed when the restrooms are not clean,” he said. “If a store is expected to be very high volume or is a truck stop location, investigate the newest technologies in automatic self-cleaning bathrooms for labor savings and consistent cleanliness.”
Another How To Crew expert emphasized that you can’t just take a corner of the store, remodel it to install foodservice and expect it to work. Operators must upgrade the entire store, including the bathrooms, “or it’s just a waste of money. You need to do both and at the same time. You literally want to reopen as a newly upgraded store with this new offering that it didn’t have before.”
RETROFITS & REMODELS
One of the most important considerations when remodeling an existing store to accommodate foodservice is space. Do you have enough space to execute the programs you want to execute? Do you have enough production/preparation and display space? Do you have room for all the plumbing requirements and storage, including for dry supplies as well as frozen and refrigerated products? Do you have enough electrical capacity to accommodate the new storage units, as well as the new foodservice equipment and lighting you will install?
In regards to how big a c-store has to be to accommodate a foodservice program, the answer is: it depends on the program you want to execute, how many dayparts you plan to serve and how much equipment you need to do the program justice. On average, stores smaller than 1,500 square feet are not going to be big enough to accommodate a retrofit, according to the experts. One How To Crew member said stores should be at least 2,500 square feet to do it right.
To make it work, operators most likely will have to remove something from the store to make room for the foodservice area –– both front-of-house preparation and display areas, and back-of-house storage. “The back-of-the-house space for cleaning, storing — and in some cases, production — is critical and should not be shortchanged,” one industry expert said. “If you do a detailed analysis of what you are selling and what you actually need in the existing store, you can see relatively quickly what needs to be removed and how much space that will give you [for the foodservice program].”
Once again, the nature and scope of the foodservice program you want to execute should drive the store changes you make, the experts agree. At a minimum, the foodservice area of a store will take up about 25 percent of the store’s footprint, so for a 2,400-square-foot store, 600 square feet of space should be dedicated to foodservice, including backroom storage and selling space.
“You will lose a large portion of the store,” Miller said. “And the foodservice area needs to be placed in the proper section of the store for customer traffic flow and awareness. Typical c-stores do not have enough room to make the transition to foodservice properly, especially when you take into consideration parking or the need for a drive-thru depending on daypart emphasis.”
Another retail expert also recommended standing in customers’ shoes to ensure the store entertains and informs through signage and merchandising. “You have to have visual cues along the way and every moment is an opportunity to sell your brand or items related to your brand.”
Yet another expert said the single most important element of a store retrofit or a new store build focused on foodservice is “the sign over the door that communicates a brand and a culture of making good food.”
C-store retrofits can cost anywhere from $100,000 to $250,000, depending on the age of the facility, scope of the foodservice program(s) to be executed, equipment needed, if seating will be included or if a drive-thru is going to be installed. Equipment alone can cost $100,000.
While our experts are divided on drive-thrus, most agree a seating area is an important offering when food is being served. The number of seats depends on your offering, the market and the competition in the area. Drive-thrus require considerable real estate and can often usurp too many parking spaces outside and clog traffic flow during peak hours if not planned and constructed correctly. Offering ample parking is vital.
The advantage of building a new store is that you can design exactly what you need and customize the store from top to bottom. When it comes to designing the foodservice area, be sure it is a focal point of the store and the customer traffic flow supports speedy transactions.
“We are in the convenience business,” one expert said, noting that in-store signage and the layout should support speed of service.
New stores today built with foodservice in mind can range from 3,000 to 6,000 square feet, but on average run about 4,000 to 4,500 square feet. Some retail experts refer to this size as the “sweet spot,” but again size depends on the programs the store plans to execute.
For new stores with foodservice, most experts recommend including seating that is flexible, expandable and moveable, but again the experts are divided about whether they should also have drive-thrus. One How To Crew member said not to include drive-thrus unless you plan “a dedicated foodservice concept and the dedicated labor tied to it.” This retailer is also in favor of zero to little seating — space, in his view, that yields no sales.
For new construction, it’s imperative to hire not only a good architect with retail experience, but also one that understand both sides of the business — the convenience store merchandise side and foodservice. “A great architect can design a nice showplace-type building using all of the latest materials that can quickly become an operational nightmare if they do not understand all of the businesses under the single roof, and what they need to sustain and grow sales,” Miller explained. “The customer flow, product mix and food offering all must come together to make a successful and profitable store.”
Convenience stores are multipurpose retail locations selling everything from consumer packaged goods, lottery and financial services to gasoline and foodservice. “Just because an architectural firm has made a name for themselves in retail design, [that] does not make them a great designer of multipurpose retail sites like convenience stores,” Miller warned.
And when you have the luxury of building a brand-new store, don’t make it look like every other foodservice establishment. “Don’t melt into the woodwork. Make the store distinct, make it stand out or you will be forgotten,” one retailer expert concluded.
Don’t forget to spend time and money “to design bathrooms that leave an impression,” another retail expert echoed. Clean bathrooms to customers translate into clean kitchens.
Convenience Store News’ How To Do World-Class Foodservice report is researched and written by Maureen Azzato, a freelance content developer and editor with more than 20 years of business publishing experience, with a primary focus on foodservice and retailing. Previously, she was the founding publisher and editorial director of On-the-Go Foodservice, a publication for cross-channel retail foodservice executives, and publisher and editorial director of CSNews, where she worked for 17 years.