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Small Foodservice Operators, Big Opportunities

Size matters in the foodservice industry. Small operators can’t help but feel a twinge of resource envy when they consider the sheer magnitude of national chains. But the fact is, the pie is so big there’s a lot of opportunity that small operators can sink their teeth into. With 9 in 10 consumers fessing up that they enjoy going to restaurants and half of them going so far as to say that restaurants are an essential part of their lifestyle,1 the American love affair with eating out continues to grow. In 2010, restaurant industry sales reached $586.7 billion; this year, the figure is projected to hit $782.7 billion.

Menu Innovation is a Must

Opportunity knocks as snackers of all stripes and tech-savvy millennials in particular continue to drive demand for grab-and-go variety. By tapping into tech trends like mobile promotions and online ordering and cultivating the millennial appetite for ethnic flavors and quick healthy snacks, small operators can position themselves to grab market share. With 66% of consumers eating a wider variety of ethnic cuisines than they did five years ago and 70% ordering more healthful options,1 getting innovative with your menu makes dollars and sense.

Snacking Necessity Is the Mother of Reinvention

As the concept of “snack foods” broadens to encompass any food people snack on, there are ample opportunities to reinvent items as snacks and offer snackable (and more diet-friendly) portions of big sellers. Mashups of familiar foods like breakfast pizzas point the way toward menu innovation that builds on popular staples to add variety. With 80% of Americans snacking daily,2 the demand for fresh twists on old favorites opens up new horizons for small foodservice operators with an eye for experimentation.

While QSRs meet the millennial need for speed, fast casual concepts are often perceived as offering greater freshness, flavor and customization. Bear in mind the superior brand perception of fast causal when developing grab-and-go snacking options. Premium and quick is better than cheap and quick, as consumers take a “you get what you pay for” attitude toward snack purchases.

Like thinking fast, thinking small is big. To meet the need for snackable portions and fewer calories, you may want to think small, limiting options but providing variety through customizable ordering and build-your-own concepts that let customers choose their own ingredients and watch meals get prepared to order. The build-your-own trend is popular with millennials who crave involvement and transparency in food preparation.

Cooking up success as a small operator requires the following ingredients in equal measure:

Adaptability: Changing with the times, keeping pace with market trends, and providing the experiences and products customers demand is critical in today’s ever-evolving foodservice industry. Understanding the convergence of foodservice and tech and leveraging digital trends to reach the millennial market is a great example of adapting to the changing times. Applying inventive forward thinking to develop healthy snack options for the grab-and-go millennial mindset is another.

Comprehensive customer service: Customer service isn’t a piece of the puzzle of small operator success; it’s the whole enchilada. Adapting to shifting customer needs and attitudes is a big part of it, but be sure to think about the customer experience in its totality, from the moment they walk in the door to the moment they leave, and at every touchpoint, be it on your social media, your website or over the phone. Want to be a customer-satisfaction restaurant? Remember that you’re not just serving food; you’re serving an experience, which requires exceptional customer service every step of the way to achieve the highest level of customer satisfaction, loyalty and referrals.

Great team: A customer-centered team is a must, and when your team is small, the margin for error is that much slimmer and it becomes especially critical to have the right people in the right roles. Ask yourself not only who you want to work with when you’re there but who you can trust to take care of business when you’re not. You want players that will work well together as a team but who can also be relied on to take responsibility for executing your vison when you’re away tending to other obligations or just enjoying some much-deserved time off.

What tips or strategies do you have for small operators? Any success stories or setbacks? Share them with the Let’s Chat Snacks community below.


1 National Restaurant Association, 2016 Restaurant Industry Pocket Factbook, http://www.restaurant.org/Downloads/PDFs/News-Research/PocketFactbook2016_LetterSize-FINAL.pdf


2 International Foodservice Manufacturers Association, Five Foodservice Trends Reshaping the Competitive Landscape, May 7, 2015,


Topics: Millennials, Trends, Mobile, Takeout, Delivery, Foodservice Industry, Menu Strategy

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