Franchises Expanding into Non-Traditional Spaces

By Jennifer Hoffman


The expansion of franchise quick-service restaurants (QSRs) into non-traditional spaces is a result of increased competition and a limited amount of prime real estate.

So, how does a brand grow when there’s a limited amount of space? Right in our home city of San Francisco, we see our Giants MLB team trying to develop the area around AT&T Park. The proposal, called Mission Rock, involves building a neighborhood of homes, shops, offices, art studios, parks and even a brewery, right around the ballpark. The team stands to gain millions through this 28-acre real estate development project and can offset ticket sales in non-World Series years.

Similarly, restaurant franchises can capitalize on the opportunity that exists in nontraditional space surrounding their restaurants, like food courts, universities, and airports. The opportunity to profit from leased space can offset operational costs of running full restaurants and other costs associated with the pursuit of prime real estate.

Restaurant companies just need to make sure their operation, offerings, and promotions stay true to their brand. Of course, that’s easier said than done! Here are a couple suggestions for promoting your businesses as it expands in a non-traditional space.

Know What to Expect

Whenever I think of franchises expanding to non-traditional spaces, I think of my friend who served ice cream at a popular concert venue during his summer breaks from college. He had two great stories from this experience: A guy as jacked as Arnold Schwarzenegger walked up and bellowed, “I’ll have a twist with sprinkles!” The other story is that he met his future wife who was vacationing from her home 1,000 miles away.

The point is, expect the unexpected in a non-traditional format and be prepared to serve a range of customers!

As this article on discusses, non-traditional formats may also create unique franchise relationships because they are often formed through contract service providers rather than individual franchisees. As a result, these agreements often require more thought and planning. For instance, how will you operate in the absence of coolers and storage or a prep station?

In many cases, like in airports or highway rest stops—or even a kiosk at a concert venue—your staff has a limited amount of space to operate. The server may be replaced by a cooler or hot pan, where food is prepared to be selected quickly.

Part of expansion into non-traditional spaces also means redefining workflow among your employees in order to serve customers. So, while the coolers and hot pans don’t need to have personnel watching the entire time, they still need to be maintained for temperature, cleanliness, and quantity. Hopefully, your non-traditional space is offering more foot traffic, so you may be producing more food at a faster rate.

Brand Focus

In traditional QSR locations, branding is important but involves a different kind of interaction with customers. In non-traditional locations, most impressions are going to be made in fleeting intervals, and for that reason, branding focus is a top priority.

What a company chooses to display up front, from promotional signage to menu boards, is crucial to catching the eye of a traveler running to catch a plane or a student grabbing something before class. Companies need to make sure that these materials are consistent with their traditional locations and properly represent the company.

The Takeaway

Part of expanding a franchise into non-traditional spaces is to serve customers who have different needs. Companies who expand this way need to acclimate to different paces and schedules. One thing that will help this transition is seamless communication and an auditing process that allows the non-traditional space to communicate with upper management. This oversight is especially important when a brand is trying a non-traditional concept for the first time.

Topics: Franchise, Restaurants

What Chipotle and Qdoba Can Prevent After Recent Health Scares

By Jennifer Hoffman


Last week was a very bad week for two of America’s top fast-casual Mexican chains. First, Chipotle closed 43 restaurants in Oregon and Washington as a result of an E.coli outbreak. Chipotle is still trying to determine the cause of the outbreak as those sickened have filed lawsuits. The outbreak grabbed national attention and even got the attention of Stephen Colbert and the The Late Show.

Overall, it’s been a difficult year for Chipotle. It started in August when the chain was linked to a norovirus outbreak in Simi Valley, California. Shortly after, cases of salmonella were traced back to tomatoes served at Chipotle restaurants in Minnesota. This tri-fecta of foodborne illness is also in combination with a months-long carnitas shortage after the chain removed pork from its menus when a supplier failed to follow animal welfare standards.

Meanwhile, Qdoba Mexican Grill has been dealing with a typhoid fever outbreak that has infected three customers in Colorado. The life-threatening bacterial infection was traced to an infected food handler at the restaurant. Interestingly, the Colorado outbreak occurred in August, but the infections were only reported recently because the illness has a long incubation period.

How did it happen when workers making burritos are required to wear gloves? That’s something Qdoba will have to investigate.

Preventing What You Can

In Chipotle’s case, if this E.coli outbreak was in fact the result of a supply chain issue, a disaster like this can be hard to prevent. That’s the nature of a fresh-not-frozen foodservice model. The food often tastes better, but there’s an elevated risk for illness. However, Chipotle will also have to rule out human error or negligence in determining the cause.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend these tips to prevent E.coli contamination:

  • Cook ground beef to 160° F and check the temperature with a thermometer.
  • Wash the thermometer after use.
  • Keep raw meat away from other foods. Wash your hands, cutting board, and utensils with hot soapy water.
  • Don’t forget beverages. Drink only pasteurized, milk, juice, or cider.

E.coli can also be spread when raw vegetables, sprouts, and fruits have been grown or washed in dirty water. It is also spread by people who have not washed their hands after using the toilet. That would result in an isolated incident, like the Qdoba typhoid fever case.

Qdoba will have to address food handling and sanitation practices with its employees.

Tracking Compliance

How do you know if employees have gotten the memo? When your network is as large as Chipotle or Qdoba, you need to entrust this task to your managers. They need to deliver the message at the store-level, and monitor kitchens for compliance.

Food safety is too important to rely on guesswork, though. Know where you stand by developing a system and tracking progress.

Related Topics
Lessons from Listeria: Food Safety for Multi-Unit Operators
Bluetooth Thermometer Probe: The Next Generation of Food Safety
How to Calibrate A Kitchen Thermometer

Topics: Restaurants

Buying Local and the Importance of Retail Signage

By Vladik Rikhter


The consumer trend of buying local has grown from being “hot” to being a central driver of growth in the restaurant and grocery retail industry, according to the results of a recent survey by A.T. Kearney. Two years ago, when the study was first conducted, local food was a differentiator for retailers—a nice offering that could set them apart from competitors. Now, merchandising local food is critical to growth.

Importantly, the study found that retail companies and grocery stores can capitalize on increased interest in local foods by highlighting products through proper signage and advertisements.


“Localvore” is the term that Randy Burt, co-author of the A.T. Kearney study, uses to describe this growing trend that’s especially popular among women and Millennials. It’s a movement that demands high standards for fresh food like seafood, meat, produce, and other assorted specialty items like jams, breads, and desserts.

A recent survey conducted by the National Restaurant Association (NRA) supports the A.T. Kearney study regarding the importance of local. The NRA asked nearly 1,600 professional chefs to identify the top food trends for restaurant menus in 2016. Check out the top 5 of 20:

  1. Locally sourced meats and seafood
  2. Chef-driven fast-casual concepts
  3. Locally grown produce
  4. Hyper-local sourcing
  5. Natural ingredients/minimally processed foods.

Forty-four percent identified local sourcing as the current food trend that has grown the most over the last decade.

The key to the local movement is not only how local the food is, but also how well the food is marketed. This involves a rebranding of the term “local,” and majority rules on this issue. Of the 1,500 U.S. shoppers surveyed, 96% now describe local food as products grown or produced within 100 miles from the point-of-sale, up from 58% in 2014. Majority also rules on what “local” means to quality, with 93% of consumers now associating local with “fresh.”

And if you sell specialty foods, this should be your favorite finding from the study: 78% of consumers are willing to pay a premium of 10% or more for local food, up from 70% in 2014. Indeed, premium is on the rise with the help of the “foodie” Millennial generation!

Availability is No Longer the Issue

Access to local food is no longer the roadblock to sales; only 27% of consumers surveyed said products were not available. However, communication is clearly a problem when more than half of the respondents said that they don’t buy local due to a lack of clear advertising/in-store signage.

It’s amazing that with all of our technological advancements, a gap in sales can come down to the basics of a misplaced sign! That may be the bad news, but the good news is that the problem is completely avoidable and/or fixable with greater oversight.

“Did You Find What You Were Looking for Today?”

Make Local Food a Priority: Consumers are drawn to local food and will pay a premium for it. Call attention to your offerings! It’s in the retailer’s interest to properly place signs designating where local food is available.

Get the Basics Right: Don’t just issue a memo or mass email hoping your managers take notice. Take action! Audit your stores in a way that includes promotional/signage auditing. Document store compliance and address issues at the store level.

Help your customers easily find their favorite local foods, and you may just become their favorite local store.

Topics: Retail, Grocery

Yelp Testing Consumer Alerts for Dirty Restaurants

By Brian Harris


For restaurant operators, Yelp has either been a welcomed service or a thorn in your side. It provided a platform for your business to shine or to get pummeled by dissatisfied customers—and that was just about the food! Now, Yelp is running an experiment in our hometown of San Francisco that warns customers about recent safety inspections.

The pop-up box says, “Following a recent inspection, this facility received a food safety rating that is in the bottom 5% locally, and is categorized by inspectors as ‘poor.’” It’s the equivalent of the scarlet A for “Agh—that’s gross!” It’s also modeled from warnings that Yelp applies to businesses it suspects of soliciting fraudulent reviews.

For the Public Good

What, in the name of capitalism, is Yelp doing? As The Washington Post reports, the company has built a business selling online ads countering the negative reviews generated by users. It doesn’t stand to make money by preventing food poisoning or playing watchdog by partnering with city regulators to detect it. So why bother? According to Yelp, it’s not all about the money.

"Yelp’s job is to predict in an online way the experience consumers can expect will happen in the offline world," Luther Lowe, Yelp's head of public policy, told the newspaper. "To the extent that we can augment the consumer opinions and ratings that our users rely on with government data that they’re creating with their tax dollars — that’s a great win-win."

In Boston, Yelp ran a keyword algorithm test and determined that Boston could catch the same number of health violations with 40% fewer inspections simply by targeting city resources at what appear to be dirty kitchens. The city is now considering ways to use such a model.

According to Luca, Yelp’s intention is not to put restaurants out of business. “The mark of success in this for me would be if businesses stop getting poor scores.”

Wake-Up Call for Restaurants

Don’t wait for this new Yelp feature to roll out to your city in order to take action. It’s time to inspect that moldy smell or dirty floor the customer complained about. Don’t live in the bubble of your own social media pages—tune into Yelp and get cracking on task management.

Related posts:
Conducting a Food Safety Audit: 7 Principles of HACCP
Bluetooth Thermometer Probe: The Next Generation of Food Safety

Topics: Restaurants

Store Associates are the Biggest Influence on Customer Loyalty

By Jennifer Hoffman


If I was a supermarket manager, I would call my associates together for a special meeting about the results of this study. I’d want my employees to know that they have the biggest influence in a customer coming back to our store. My employees are not only important—they’re THE most important part of the customer’s shopping experience!

Now in its eighth year, Retail Feedback Group's (RFG), 2015 U.S. Supermarket Experience Study found that supermarkets have the most success with the most customer satisfaction, scoring an average of 4.44 on a five-point scale, where 5 is the highest score.

Areas of Excellence and Improvement

Shoppers rated supermarkets highly in key customer service areas, including feeling like a welcome guest (4.70), deriving food expertise from store associates (4.66), and encountering exceptional service (4.66).

The two highest-rated core experience factors were quality/freshness of the food and groceries (4.47) and cleanliness of the store (4.44). High marks were given to friendliness and attitude of the store personnel (4.43) and the speed and efficiency of checkout (4.41). However, helpfulness and knowledge of personnel (4.35) scored a lower rating, as well as availability of personnel to provide assistance (4.26).

“Our findings show that two of the three lowest-rated areas among the core experience factors are people-related – helpfulness and knowledge of personnel and the availability of personnel to provide assistance," said Doug Madenberg, RFG principal. "It is important to strengthen these areas, especially considering how store associates can positively influence overall satisfaction.”

The Takeaway

Customers want to feel at home when they’re purchasing groceries. The more at home they feel —from the moment that they step into the supermarket to the moment they step out of the door —the more loyalty they’ll feel to that store and the brands that the store sells.

One of the ways to enable personal interaction between employees and customers is to upgrade technology so that tasks that formerly had to be done on ink and paper can be done with more efficiency. With mobile technology, managers free themselves from desks and workstations and automate processes. This results in more time to help customers and more time with associates.

Associates will become more knowledgeable and helpful when their managers are a visible presence in the store, leading by example—not just by directive.

Think it will cost you a lot of money to upgrade to mobile technology? Think again!

Check out our post on enacting a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy.

Topics: Retail, Grocery

Zenput Moment: Taking Wegmans’ Temperature

By Brian Harris

On a recent visit to the East Coast, I had what I like to call a “Zenput moment.” We’ve come to define a Zenput moment as a real-life shopping experience in which retail execution could have been improved with Zenput.

If you live on the West Coast you may not be familiar with Wegmans. Other than being the second happiest place on Earth, Wegmans is part grocery store, part café. Some stores even have restaurant concepts. I visited a store with a standard Wegmans Market Café, which had about four different buffet areas: Thai/Chinese food, homemade pasta salads/Italian specialties, traditional salad bar, and appetizer foods (mozzarella sticks, hot wings, etc.).

My Zenput moment occurred when I was filling a to-go container. That’s when I saw a Wegmans employee using a food thermometer and a personal digital assistant (PDA). I watched as he used the probe of the thermometer to check the temperatures of the chicken, fish, and other items on the buffet line. He was methodical and recorded the reading he received on the PDA.

As a customer, this is something I like to see. The employee of a food establishment I frequent has been trained to properly monitor food temperatures and audit buffet operations. This makes me feel good about eating here. However, as a Zenput advocate, I couldn’t help but notice areas of improvement in this process.

Why have employees use a clunky PDA when they can use their own mobile device?

Think about it. First the employee had to learn Wegmans’ process for auditing food temperature. Secondly, he had to learn how to use the PDA. This device looked about as nimble as a Texas Instruments calculator I used in high school.

I think of the feedback we’ve received about Zenput thus far. Many of our customers report that the platform was so easy to use, minimal to no training was required. That’s because they’re using their favorite mobile devices to fill out a digital form on a mobile app. It’s a 21st century setup they’re comfortable using.

Also, what happens to the PDA files? Are they exported and emailed? Using a mobile device with a cloud-based app makes more sense. If everyone is accessing the same mobile platform, it’s easy to call up information on your preferred device. When is the last time you were in a meeting and the management team took out the cumbersome PDAs you see in retail stores?

I propose a new Golden Rule of retail technology: If you don’t find the digital device comfortable to use, don’t make your employees use it!

Food safety is important and requires attention, and I wanted to let the Wegmans employee do his job. I should have asked him if the thermometer and PDA were “talking to each other.” The wireless PDA was most likely (let’s hope for his sake) recording the results of the thermometer reading automatically, cutting down on a time-consuming step that’s prone to human error.

I saw the Wegmans employee pick up and place down the PDA multiple times, and use two thumbs to type. It didn’t look very comfortable. That was the culmination of my Zenput moment. For the employee’s sake, I hope his managers let him use a smartphone app soon!

Learn more about Zenput’s integration with ThermoWorks’ BlueTherm Bluetooth Probe by clicking here.

Topics: Grocery

To Close or Stay Open on Black Friday?

By Brian Harris


In 2008, a worker died at a Long Island Walmart after being trampled in a Black Friday stampede. Across the country that same day, gunfire broke out at a Southern California Toys ‘R Us, leaving two dead. In 2011, shoppers in West Virginia stepped over a man who had collapsed while shopping in Target; he died later at the hospital.

These are just a few of the Black Friday shopping incidents in recent memory that have shaken our public conscience. Some retailers have taken a stand against Black Friday shopping. The most recent is Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI), which announced that it plans to close 143 stores on Black Friday. The store will pay its 12,000 employees on their day off, and encourages other retailers to join them.

REI’s move is both daring and expensive move, but as Forbes reports, it’s on point not only with public sentiment but also with the brand’s mission. “We’re a different kind of company—and while the rest of the world is fighting it out in the aisles, we’ll be spending our day a little differently,” said CEO Jerry Stritzke in a statement about the decision. “We’re choosing to opt outside, and want you to come with us.” REI’s online store will still be running under the watch of a few employees, however.

The reality is that Black Friday is no longer a top sales day for many specialty retailers like REI. The privately held company sees more deals from its membership structure, and sales also pick up during the spring. They are indeed a different kind of company—in a completely different situation than big-box retailers like Target and Walmart.

“If we announced to our guests that we weren’t going to be open on Black Friday, I think we’d have a lot of pushback,” Brian Cornell, CEO of Target, told The New York Times. “It’s a very important part of the holiday season. It really is a family tradition.”

For some families, it is. For other families, Black Friday shopping as become a tradition of rejection.

Unlike Walmart and Coscto, which both can fall back on gas sales, Target just has its sales floor. Costco will be closed on Thanksgiving, while Walmart and Target will once again compete to open Thanksgiving evening. We see this trend in department stores like Sears and Macy’s, which will both open on 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving this year.

What is Important to Your Brand?

If you’re a specialty retailer like REI, can you afford to set yourself apart and stay closed on Black Friday? It may be an option worth considering, since it will call attention to your brand in a positive light. If you’re a big-box retailer or a discount retailer trying to compete with a big-box retailer, it unfortunately looks like you’re back to the grind this holiday.

Maybe more retailers will follow the path of GameStop and Staples, which are both opening later on Black Friday, and remaining closed on Thanksgiving.

If you’re a big-box retailer or a discount retailer trying to compete with a big-box retailer, it unfortunately looks like you’re back to the grind this holiday.

The Retail Turkey Returns

Last year, the National Retail Federation suggested that spending had become more dispersed across the holiday season, if not the entire year. This year, the industry group predicts that sales for November and December will rise 3.7% to $630 billion, below last year’s 4.1% gain.  Sales during the holidays represent nearly 20% of the retail industry’s annual sales of $3.2 trillion, reported the Wall Street Journal.

Unfortunately, Black Friday door busters are still the big fat turkey of holiday sales for so many of America’s largest retailers. It’s been this way for at least a decade as toys have become more interactive and more expensive and, generally speaking, middle class spending habits on everything from gadgets to clothing/accessories have gone upscale.

Black Friday has become the balance of the American dream and a perennial nightmare. If the pattern won’t reverse, it may one day just become obsolete with Internet sales.

Topics: Retail

C-Stores Need to Compete in Health & Beauty Care

By Scott Hill


I was about to sit through a book reading by one of my favorite authors, and all I could think about was my dry lips. I needed a ChapStick, pronto. Once you feel your lips are chapped or your breath is bad, you can’t stop thinking about it. It’s so distracting! I had a few minutes before the show started, so I walked to the closest store—a 7-Eleven. Before I left, I also bought a bag of M&Ms. I was a happy camper for the rest of the evening.

Despite channel blurring, convenient stores still trail their mass, drug, and dollar store counterparts in the health and beauty care (HBC) category, according to a recent Convenience Store Decisions report. C-stores need to do something about this; it’s too good of an opportunity to pass up! As CSD points out—and as I know from experience—time-strapped customers don’t have time to wander for a Chapstick or a couple of aspirin. C-stores have a clear geographic advantage in that regard; they’re often the closest store.

A Growing Category…With Small-Sized Products

According to research by Mintel, total HBC retail sales are expected to increase 12% from 2014 and reach $42.5 billion by 2019. As CSD reports, many retailers are having success with smaller-sized products. Cosmetics maintain the highest market share at 25%, and some retailers report success with eye liners, lipsticks, hair sprays, and small-sized conditions. The strategy of offering travel-sized products for a lower price also works well for feminine hygiene products, headache powders, and even diapers.

Retailers also report that placement is key. Some reserve a small amount of space at the front of the store with recognizable brands.

The Case for Private-Label Products

In time, more convenience store retailers could develop their own private-label HBC brands to profit more from the category. Ric Anderson, managing partner of Retail Think Tank, says that c-stores can succeed if they take the time, effort and strategy to build private brands that mean something to the customer.

These products should also be in different section of the store with different visuals—a destination rather than a point-of-sale grab. By under-pricing national brands, private-label products can create a value that the customer understands and accepts.

In order for c-stores to even consider this option, they would have to have a very firm grasp of their retail metrics, including inventory control, SKUs, and product facings. Store operators would have to know what products are moving faster than others, and how customers respond to product placement in the store. They would also have to account for changes in their store planogram, and how growing HBC might affect other categories in the store.

So yes, there’s a clear opportunity here for c-stores—but only if the process to get there does first!

Topics: C-store

Halloween Whopper: Weird for All the Wrong Reasons

By Brian Harris


It was supposed to be a treat, but it turned out to be an unexpected trick that blew up social media. Burger King’s Halloween Whopper got more attention for its interesting post-digestive side effects, than the novelty of having A1 sauce baked right into the bun.

That was supposed to be the selling point, right? Or was the black bun supposed to be appealing? This is one marketing stunt that is a bit puzzling.

While most QSRs are moving away from artificial ingredients and preservatives, Burger King introduced this black bun, which gets its color with the help of D&C Red #40, Molasses Powder, and FD&C Blue #1, reported The dyes in the bun help contribute to a ghoulish surprise post-consumption. You get the point.

Betsy Craig, founder of MenuTrinfo, a menu labeling company put it best when she said, “The entire food industry is moving in the direction toward the removal of additives. This is a complete reversal of that movement.”

Some might try to defend Burger King’s move by saying, “Well it worked in Asia, so they decided to take a gamble in America.” However, that’s not exactly accurate. The Japanese version of the black bun received its color from squid ink and bamboo charcoal. That’s a bit different than the plethora of unnatural food dyes in the A1 burger.

A Whopper of a Turn Off

America has turned a page in its relationship with fast-food. The Halloween Whopper subscribes to the old school of thought. It practically dares consumers not to question how it got its black color.

The reality is that Americans today are too self-educated to not question the ingredients. Combine that with social media and the after-effects of the Whopper became a viral story.Of course, there will be some people who might want to try the limited-edition Halloween Whopper as a science experiment, but it seems that the more common reaction is one of disgust and distrust.

If you’re Burger King, you don’t want customers now questioning what other additives you use in your foods. Unfortunately, that may be the result of this product rollout. In the long run, it’s calling attention to the brand of the wrong reasons. Was it worth it for the sales of a limited-edition menu item? That’s the big question Burger King will have to answer.

To see some examples of brands that are tapping into consumers’ preference for healthy, fresh ingredients, check out these posts:

The Secret Sauce to Fast Casual Restaurants’ Success – (Hint: It’s not A1)
5 C-store Trends for 2015   - (No. 1, “Healthy Food with a Flair”)
Top 3 Franchised Restaurant Trends for 2015

Topics: Restaurants

Raise a Glass to Darden’s Secret Weapon

By Vladik Rikhter


Darden Restaurants Inc. is on a roll—a roll not to be overshadowed by breadsticks.

The company’s Olive Garden restaurants recorded higher comparable sales for the fourth straight quarter and saw its first quarter of higher traffic in recent memory, according to this financial article. It’s a big victory for the brand and the parent company, given that Olive Garden generates 56% of the restaurant operator’s nearly $1.69 billion revenue.

It’s certainly good news after Darden’s decision to transfer approximately 430 of its more than 1,500 Olive Garden restaurants to a publicly traded real-estate investment trust (REIT) and lease back the properties.

This recent success has not let Darden rest on its laurels, though. This is a company that pays careful attention to consumer trends, as evidenced by its acquisition of and investment in Yard House. While it’s a modest chain of 59 restaurants, Nation’s Restaurant News named Yard House the sixth fastest-growing chain in the country, ranking No. 91 in the top 100 restaurants of 2015. In this article, NRN outlined the three keys to Yard House’s growth:

  1. Unit Growth - Self-explanatory, with the restaurant chain growing 13.5 percent in the year ended May 2014
  2. Strong Segment - Also self-explanatory given the sustained upward trajectory of craft beer
  3. Vibrant Atmosphere - The food, beer, and music combination

Fun is the key in these types of bar-restaurants. Yard House’s name is derived from its signature “yard” of beer—a very tall glass. The beer menu includes more than 100 beers on tap on a chalkboard. While Olive Garden says, “When you’re here, you’re family,” the Yard House brand says it’s a “modern public house where food and beer lovers unite.” In other words, “When you’re here, you’re here to have a good time!”

Yard House adds some “good-times” diversity to Darden’s upscale portfolio, which also includes LongHorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grille, Eddie V’s, Season 52 and Bahama Breeze.

Human Interaction Over a Brew

When reading about the success of Yard House, I couldn’t help but think of an article I read about Asbury Festhalle & Biergarten in Asbury Park, NJ. For anyone who knows the area, or listens to Bruce Springsteen’s music, this area was economically depressed for decades, but is making a comeback thanks to a younger generation of newcomers interested in revitalizing the downtown.

Just don’t expect to watch any kind of playoff games at Biergarten – there are no TVs! I’ve heard stories of people waiting two hours just to get into the Biergarten on a Saturday night. And it’s all so they could have a good beer, some delicious German food, and actually talk to each other.

According to one Biergarten investors, people are “starving for that human interaction and contact.” Another investor (there’s 17 of them) says the Biergarten prides itself on the “easiness and unpretentiousness” of the place.

Biergarten is the place people want to bring friends. Who wouldn’t want to check out the local place with a beer menu that has 70 percent to 80 percent imports, and an interior design of 1920s Europe?

While exclusivity may be cool, definitely tune into this trend of open and inviting atmospheres. Large, corporate-run chains like Darden Inc. and local ventures like the Asbury Biergarten are both in step with what a younger generation of customers are looking for in a bar/restaurant: top-notch food, a variety of cold beer, and a fun, social environment.

Topics: Restaurants