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The appeal of nontraditional restaurant space

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Restaurant and Foodservice

Restaurant chains are taking a growing interest in nontraditional locations, which are less costly to launch than traditional storefront restaurants and boast a high number of potential patrons regularly, including airports, corporate campuses, hospitals  and, of course, college campuses. Subway, an early adopter of nontraditional space, credits the strategy for helping to build the sandwich concept into the world’s largest quickservice chain. Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina’s new owner and CEO recently stressed the importance of nontraditional space as part of the chain’s expansion plan.

Nowhere is there a greater number of potential regulars than on college campuses, where students subscribe to meal plans and faculty and staff often stay close at lunchtime. Historically, university foodservice divisions have had a near monopoly on campus foodservice in dining halls run either by the department or, increasingly, by contractors, but lately departments are facing competition from food trucks. Mobile eateries are making inroads with students by offering a wider variety of eclectic fare than they typically find in the dining hall. This year, MassLive reported that more dining-services departments are either launching fleets or licensing independent operators in exchange for a cut of proceeds. Construction on the University of California, Los Angeles, campus last year led the foodservice director to invite food trucks as a long-term but ultimately temporary solution to disrupted dining-hall services, according to UCLA Today.

While gourmet food trucks and mouthwatering concepts might be rolling in on some campuses, at Rutgers University, in New Brunswick, N.J., Grease Trucks have been there for years and are such an institution that the Travel Channel’s Adam Richman did a “Man v. Food” segment about them. The trucks and their famous “Fat” sandwiches, which layer combinations of fried fare including chicken fingers, burgers, fries, onion rings and mozzarella sticks, even have a page on Yelp!.

Talk about nontraditional …

When Subway announced a plan last year to open a restaurant in a shipping container that will be elevated floor by floor to serve construction workers erecting the Freedom Tower at ground zero in New York City, the container was as unusual as the ever-rising elevation. Today, not so much. A small but growing number of eateries are finding a home in shipping containers, which are plentiful and less-expensive to roll out than food trucks, according to a Restaurant Hospitality story.

Is your chain growing in a nontraditional way? Tell us about it in the comments.