Fast casual salad chain restaurant Chop’t recently decided to stop chopping their salads and instead use pre-chopped ingredients. Many customers have become accustom to Chop’t and its namesake tradition of chopping the salad in plain view of the customer. The process creates a bit of restaurant theater and shows the customer that the ingredients are freshly prepared and customized to their liking. The new process will speed up service and reduces labor cost by taking the manual process out of the order. Customers who still wish to have their salad chopped will need to ask for the preparation.
Minimum wage increases are putting greater pressure on restaurants as they find difficulty passing on the costs through menu price increases. Consumers remain sensitive to prices for food away from home seeking value through deals and affordable combos. Many restaurants reduce their staffing in order to save some cost, but this results in lower levels of customer service and ultimately, customer satisfaction. Full-service restaurants reduce their front and back of house staff to levels where customers wait for a table is based on limited server and cook availability and not open, clean tables. In limited service fast food and fast casual, reducing staff means longer lines and many customers “look and leave”. This is where a consumer feels that the line is too long and decide to dine elsewhere. Increasing speed build greater throughput and moves more customers through peak lunch occasions.
Does the change to pre-chopped ingredients really change the taste and flavor of the salad? It’s not likely this change will affect the end-product. Most restaurants today purchase pre-processed ingredients to increase speed and reduce costs in the kitchen. While very few restaurants practice scratch or homemade meal preparation, the term scratch has evolved toward what is commonly known as “speed-scratch”. Speed-scratch is when a chef or cook prepares a restaurant meal using homemade recipes and ingredients but allows the use of some pre-processed ingredients. These ingredients can include marinated ingredients that require time and can be portioned, packaged and marinated by a supplier. Often vegetables are purchased in bulk already chopped or cut to specifications. In addition, sliced meat and cheese is often brought in through the back door while few restaurants today slice their own.
As I See It, many consumers will be put off by the recent change at Chop’t. Consumers who value the control and larger ingredient sizes will likely show their frustration by avoiding the restaurant for a short time. Consumer behavior is very repetitive, and consumers tend to be very forgiving, especially toward a restaurant that they know and trust. Longer term, loyal customers will return and accept the change and likely just ask for their salad to be chopped by staff. In the end, these changes will make for a faster service time and customers will appreciate getting in and out more quickly while less customers “look and leave”.