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Fast Casual Food at Truckstops

Posted in: Truckstop Business


There continues to be many questions about what type of food offering independent operators should continue with, expand or offer in their operation.

I find many operators stick to what used to work because they are fearful of limiting, expanding and in some cases replacing their full-service sit-down restaurants.

While I am not advocating you do or do not replace your full-service restaurant without first visiting and analyzing your specific operation, what I will tell you is the facts and numbers continue to point towards less full-service sit-down restaurants and more fast causal restaurants along with additional expanded grab-n-go food service offerings.

The restaurant industry is expected to reach sales of $632 billion for 2012, which is a 3.5% increase over last year. Fast casual dining, however, is expected to “post significant sales growth compared to traditional sit down restaurant category.” 

“The fast-casual segment is definitely one of the areas in the restaurant industry which is experiencing an above average growth rate,” says Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research for the National Restaurant Association.

I hope you will consider at the very least PRUDENTLY expanding your food service offering in those categories and sub-categories.  For example:

  • Add a hot box that is strategically placed within your operation to maximize foot traffic.
  • Got a hot box already? Add turkey legs, gizzards, carrots, green beans, pork chops or other items that you already sell in your full service sit down restaurant.
  • Selling burritos and tornados? Add gorditos, taquitos, tamales and tacos.
  • Or add another roller grill to take advantage of egg rolls, sausages and bratwurst.

You cannot be everything to everyone and I certainly do not suggest you do. But I urge you to KNOW your customer. Focus on your strategy, support it with the proper tactics of placement and execute your expanded yet limited specific menu exceptionally.

Ira Wexler/NATSO

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About the Author

Darren Schulte

Darren Schulte

Darren Schulte serves as Vice President of Membership at NATSO. In this role, he directs recruitment, retention and customer service for truckstop and travel plaza members. He is also responsible for developing NATSO products and programs, particularly those relating to education, research and training for truckstop and travel plaza operators.

Schulte also leads NATSO's Profitable Retail Review program. A Profitable Retail Review is a custom assessment of your truckstop, including recommendations for every aspect of your facility, from actionable ideas to improve revenue to tactical ways to improve your net operating costs. Learn about NATSO's Profitable Retail Review program here.

Schulte joined NATSO with nearly three decades of experience in truckstop and travel plaza operations and merchandising. Schulte has worked for: 

  • Love's Travel Stops and Country Stores,
  • HESS Corporation, 
  • Petro Stopping Centers, and
  • TSC Global/Barjan LLC.