What Are the Opportunities and Challenges for Fast Casuals in Small Metro Markets?

fast casuals in small metro markets

In this blog post, we will discover the unexplored opportunities and challenges that await fast casual in small metro markets. Join us as we explore how these dynamic urban centers offer a new frontier for convenient, quality dining experiences. Let’s delve into the culinary potential and obstacles that restaurateurs face in this exciting journey together through the lens of The Works Cafés. 

What Are the Opportunities and Challenges for Fast Casuals in Small Metro Markets?

For over three decades, The Works Cafés has been on an exciting quest to conquer the challenges and seize the opportunities of operating in small cities across the Northeast. While many articles highlight the growth stories of brands in big and medium-sized metros, their fast casual model has set its sights on small metros.

Embracing the Charm of Small Metro Markets

In their pursuit of excellence, they have strategically placed most of their cafes in the hearts of vibrant downtown communities. It’s a win-win, as these areas offer them six invaluable advantages:

  • Minimal Marketing Costs

Engaging with communities in downtown areas means spending less on marketing, allowing them to invest more in delivering top-notch experiences to their customers.

  • Cost-Effective Rents

Unlike the sky-high prices of prime locations in major metros, downtown rents are more reasonable, allowing them to allocate resources wisely.

  • Ideal Digital Business Opportunities

Placing their stores at the geographic center of small metros enables efficient digital delivery and take-out services with minimal traffic hurdles.

  • All-Day Foot Traffic

Downtown locations attract a steady stream of foot traffic throughout the day, guaranteeing a steady flow of customers.

  • Unique Menu, Minimal Competition

Their diverse and distinctive menu sets them apart, ensuring limited direct competition and maximizing returns on investment.

However, like any adventure, their journey comes with challenges:

  • No Drive-Thrus

They don’t have the luxury of drive-thru setups in downtown locations, but they’ve found alternative ways to keep the customer experience smooth and enjoyable.

  • Customized Build-outs

Older buildings demand tailored modifications, but they’ve turned this into a strength, providing a unique and charming atmosphere.

  • Operational Hurdles

Recruiting quality District Managers, General Managers, and Assistant District Managers has been challenging, but they’ve learned to tackle it head-on and improve continuously.

The Power of Community Connection

The Works Cafés understands tight-knit communities in small metros, so they put community integration at the core of their strategy. They celebrate the distinctiveness of each community by designing their stores to reflect their character. This earned them tremendous appreciation from locals and tourists alike. Theorists seek out unique experiences, and they become their preferred choice.

Their commitment to the community continues beyond there. Moreover, they encourage their employees to volunteer for local non-profit organizations, support impactful projects, and donate food to those in need. This ethos of giving back cements their place in the hearts of the communities they serve. The Works Cafés has unlocked the potential of small metro markets through flexibility, community spirit, and innovation. As they continue to adapt and grow, their journey remains one of unmatched returns on investment and meaningful connections with the people who make these communities thrive.

Their Menu Selection is Designed for Small Metros

In bustling metropolises, you can stumble upon a treasure trove of unique and diverse fast casual restaurants, each catering to niche and ethnic tastes. However, these delightful culinary gems might find it tough to flourish in smaller towns, where the options may be limited, and the food preferences differ.

Their restaurant has cracked the code to success by blending the best of both worlds. their journey began with the beloved New York bagels, fresh and tasty. They’ve ventured far beyond, crafting an expansive menu.

They take pride in serving a delectable assortment of dishes to nourish their body and soul. From organic whole grain bowls that promote health to the irresistible comfort of Vermont cheddar mac and cheese, they’ve got it all, appealing to folks of all ages. Their commitment to inclusivity sets us apart and contributes to their thriving business. Their offerings cater to all members of the family and even businesses seeking a delicious catering experience. There should be something on their menu for everyone!

Here’s the secret to their smooth operation: careful planning and thoughtful choices. They’ve spent years perfecting their menu, ensuring it remains diverse and manageable. By doing so, they’ve managed to keep their inventory in check, maintain efficient lines, and swift preparation, all without compromising on taste and quality.

So, if you find yourself in the heart of a big city or even a smaller town, seeking a memorable dining experience, look no further. Savor the delightful fusion of flavors they offer as they celebrate the rich tapestry of food and culture in every bite.

Very Low Marketing Costs 

At every eatery, The Works Cafés believes in being at the heart of the community. Nestled at the heart of it all, The Works Cafés central location bestows upon us the golden key to cater not just to the lively locals and diligent workers of the town, but also embrace the vibrant souls of the sprawling metro communities that surround us. This prime location isn’t just advantageous for them and works wonders from a marketing perspective, ensuring maximum exposure and accessibility.

How do they get the word out about their fantastic food haven? Their secret ingredient is throwing the most delightful free food sampling parties during grand openings. They spare no expense to make these events fabulous. As these community figures relish their delectable offerings, they can’t help but spread the word throughout the metro area. Their reputation as a top-notch eatery quickly spreads through word-of-mouth and social media. People can’t resist sharing their excitement about their high-quality food and exceptional service.

After these sensational grand opening events, their marketing costs take a delightful dip, except for one location close to Albany – a bustling metro market where they keep their promotional efforts strong. Now, let’s talk about their ongoing marketing efforts. The Works Cafés believe in keeping things simple and effective. Their primary focus is fundamental social media interactions, allowing them to stay engaged with their beloved customers. They also take pride in their eye-catching in-store branding and promotional signs that capture attention and make people curious about their offerings.

In addition to that, they’ve got something special for their loyal customers – an expanding loyalty program. The Works Cafés love to reward those who keep returning for more, and this program shows their gratitude to their fantastic patrons. Last but not least, The Works Cafés believes in building strong ties within the community. They actively participate in Chamber of Commerce-type functions, fostering meaningful relationships with local businesses and customers. This collaborative spirit adds to their charm and reinforces their commitment to being an integral part of the community they serve.

So, come on and experience the taste sensation everyone’s talking about! At their centrally located eatery, convenience meets flavor, and they can’t wait to serve you the finest culinary delights in town. Prepare to embark on a mouthwatering journey that will keep you returning for more!

Environmental Sustainability

Living in small metro communities has perks, especially when appreciating businesses prioritizing environmental sustainability. These communities often have store locations close to nature, making residents value eco-conscious companies even more. Many people deliberately live in these areas to steer clear of the environmental hazards commonly found in larger metros. Unsurprisingly, some of their most loyal customers are “refugees” from bustling cities, seeking solace in small towns to escape air, water, and noise pollution, not to mention the stress of excessive traffic.

Regarding sustainability, The Works Café stands out and has a distinct advantage. Thanks to its visionary founder and CEO, who has been a pioneer in composting, recycling, and supporting locals for decades, the café takes environmental responsibility seriously. In contrast, many other chains are just beginning to recognize the significance of these impactful issues.

The strong emphasis on sustainability sets The Works Café apart and gives us an edge in customer loyalty and attracting talented employees. Their workforce primarily comprises Gen-Z workers who prioritize environmental matters. By aligning with their values, they can forge a deeper connection with their employees, making them more engaged and committed to their mission.

In conclusion, small metro communities treasure businesses like theirs, which prioritize environmental sustainability. The Works Café’s long-standing commitment to eco-conscious practices makes it a favorite among residents who seek refuge from the ecological challenges of large cities. With sustainability as a central pillar, their café not only stands out from the competition but also earns the trust and loyalty of customers and employees alike.

Major HR and Operations Challenges are Becoming Competitive Opportunities for Us

Running a successful chain of eateries in geographically distant towns has been a formidable task, one they have diligently addressed since the inception of their second eatery 33 years ago. With most of their locations approximately 90 minutes apart, the logistical hurdles of staffing and management have posed complex challenges. 

To tackle the distance challenge, they have implemented various innovative solutions. Among these is establishing a mobile “pro team” comprising the finest and most experienced personnel from all their locations. This team can be readily deployed to open new cafes or rejuvenate existing ones immediately, streamlining operations and maintaining their commitment to exceptional service.

In contrast, they witnessed an unfortunate incident involving a Chipotle location in Maine, which had to close last year due to a worker strike. Unlike mere demands for higher wages, the employees sought a manager who could hire an adequate workforce, as the existing understaffed team was overburdened while striving to deliver “food with integrity.” This episode highlighted the critical importance of effective HR-related operations, which has played a pivotal role in their success.

Previously, competing with Panera in small metros posed considerable challenges for them. However, the situation has transformed, and they now attribute this shift to the HR-related operational problems faced by Panera. As they venture into new markets to expand their chain, they are excited about the prospect of competing with Panera on equal footing, thanks to their strides in overcoming their challenges.

In conclusion, their journey of conquering the complexities of managing eateries in distant locations has been a testament to their dedication and ingenuity. The Works Cafés have turned these challenges into a distinctive advantage by assembling a highly skilled “pro team” and addressing HR-related operational concerns. As they continue to grow, they are confident in their ability to compete and thrive in any market, consistently delivering excellence and “food with integrity” to their valued customers.

How The Works Cafés Have Overcome Their Daunting Ops Challenges

Previously, they relied on a single District Manager (DM) to oversee all their locations. However, as their business expanded, they recognized the need for a more robust approach. Today, they are proud to have two top-quality DMs who are generously compensated for their exceptional skills, and The Works Cafés are actively searching for a third as they recently launched a new store with plans to open more soon.

Attracting ambitious and capable DMs and General Managers (GMs) to work in small towns comes at a significant cost, but they firmly believe that the benefits far outweigh the expenses. Having skilled DMs who frequently visit and actively engage with their stores has proven invaluable. Their hard work directly translates to hiring, training, and supervising high-quality GMs. These exceptional GMs then build and nurture proficient shift managers and staff teams.

A crucial aspect of their success is offering their workers higher their wages than other QSR chains in their markets. Moreover, The Works Cafés provides enticing perks such as health insurance, meal discounts, tuition scholarships, and performance-based bonuses. As a result, their team members are motivated to excel, especially with their capable managers guiding and mentoring them. They demonstrate their worth through increased productivity, consistent food quality, and delivering prompt and friendly customer service. This translates to satisfied customers who are more than willing to show appreciation through generous tips, further enriching their employees’ compensation.

In conclusion, their multi-DM strategy has proven to be a game-changer for their QSR business. By investing in top talent and providing competitive benefits, they have cultivated a workforce that takes pride in their work and delivers exceptional service. With their continued commitment to excellence, they look forward to even greater success in the future as they expand their operations and bring their unique offerings to more communities.

Potential Directions to Scale their Company in the Future

The Works Café, with its strong foundation in small metros and a deep commitment to being an integral part of local communities, is now poised for further growth. Overcoming the challenges associated with operating in small metro locations, the company is eager to expand its reach and impact. Currently, The Works Café continues to open new stores in New England and Eastern upstate New York, solidifying its presence in these regions. However, the company is now exploring establishing clusters of company-owned stores in different parts of the country, broadening its geographical footprint.

Additionally, The Works Café is venturing into a new direction by considering franchising opportunities in untapped regions across the U.S. Although franchising is not unique to the company, they have successfully operated one franchised store for 12 years, which has proven to be just as successful as their other locations. This success has spurred their confidence in expanding their small metro business model to include multi-brand and independent franchisee groups.

While the potential for becoming a well-known national brand is not discounted, The Works Café’s primary vision remains to become a beloved and respected local brand in small metros across different regions. By maintaining this focus, the company aims to preserve its close connection to communities and continue providing the unique and personalized experience that has made them thrive in the first place.

In conclusion, The Works Café is poised to embark on an exciting journey of growth and expansion. As they explore new markets and embrace franchising, their unwavering dedication to their local roots ensures they will remain a cherished part of small metro communities while potentially touching customers’ lives in many new places.

Bonus Cameras

In their quest to expand into new regions while maintaining their high culinary and customer service standards, The Works Cafés have recognized the challenges of supervising stores that are geographically far apart. To address this, The Works Cafés is exploring innovative methods, and one such approach is the concept of “Bonus Camera Branding.”

Surveillance cameras have become commonplace in fast casuals, mainly used to identify and prevent inappropriate actions among store-level personnel. However, relying solely on surveillance for oversight can sometimes create an atmosphere of distrust among employees, making them feel like they are constantly being watched, akin to a police state in a big city. This can be particularly unappealing, especially in small metros where locals often trust their neighbors.

With “Bonus Camera Branding,” they aim to expand the functionalities of video cameras and redefine their in-house branding and scope. Their vision is to use these cameras to monitor employee behavior and capture moments when employees excel and perform extraordinary acts. Instead of creating a sense of scrutiny, these cameras will serve as a means of recognition and reward for exceptional work.

Imagine catching employees doing something right or going above and beyond their regular duties. When such positive instances are captured, they plan to acknowledge and reward these employees with cash bonuses, desirable prizes, and storewide recognition for their achievements. This approach encourages a positive work environment and fosters a sense of trust and appreciation between employees and management.

At the heart of their “Bonus Camera Branding” concept lies the belief that appreciation and recognition are powerful motivators. By highlighting and rewarding exemplary behavior, The Works Cafés aims to boost employee morale and create a culture of positivity within the organization. Employees will feel valued and encouraged to perform at their best, knowing their hard work will be acknowledged and appreciated.

As The Works Cafés continue to explore the possibilities of “Bonus Camera Branding,” they are committed to addressing any potential concerns and ensuring that the implementation of this concept aligns with their values and company culture. Their ultimate goal is to cultivate a supportive and nurturing work environment, even in distant store locations, while propelling their growth and maintaining the standards that define their brand.

Conclusion and Takeaways

Inevitably, as fast casual chains continue to multiply, they will venture into new locations in smaller metros adjacent to their current focus on primary and mid-sized cities. This move could prove successful for them if they adhere to certain key factors:

Firstly, possessing or adopting appropriate branding will be crucial in establishing a strong presence in these smaller markets. Ensuring their brand image resonates with the local population will increase their acceptance and popularity.

Secondly, a willingness and ability to make substantial investments in human resources will play a pivotal role. Hiring and training the right staff to maintain the same level of service and quality as their more prominent locations is essential for continued success.

Moreover, having robust environmental sustainability policies and practices will appeal to environmentally-conscious customers in smaller metros. Initiatives like recycling and composting can set them apart from competitors and attract a loyal customer base.

Additionally, offering unique food options, including locally sourced ingredients, will give these fast casual chains a competitive edge. Standing out from the crowd with exclusive menu items will help garner interest and entice customers.

While broad menu selections are beneficial, significantly akin to popular chains like Chipotle and Panera, it’s essential to tailor the menu to suit the preferences of the particular small metro market. Alternatively, ensuring excellence in those offerings will be crucial if they focus on America’s favorite foods like burgers, chicken, and pizza.

At The Works Café, they take pride in optimizing the numerous advantages and effectively navigating the challenges of operating a fast casual chain in small metro markets. their success stems from cultivating a strong company culture that permeates each location, fostering consistency and quality throughout their presence in these areas.

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Act now and take the first step towards elevating their business to new heights! Get in touch with us at [email protected] to explore the possibilities that await you. Don’t miss out on this incredible chance to thrive in the fast-casual industry. Let’s revolutionize the small metro market together!

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