Numerical ordering tools are no longer a smart differentiator for restaurants; these are table stakes in this convivial and heavy off-site climate that has been supercharged by the COVID-19 pandemic. But as brands across the country rush to take advantage of technology to make their offerings more convenient, some are still clinging to human interactions and the quality experiences of yesteryear, while embracing the technology of tomorrow.
Bluestone Lane is one such brand. The New York-based coffee shop and café chain was founded by Nick Stone in 2013 and inspired by the coffee culture of his native Australia. The brand quickly reached around 50 locations by the end of 2019, thriving on investing in the intersection of artisanal goods and services with digitally driven convenience.
Stone joined Nation’s Restaurant News editor-in-chief Sam Oches on the new Take-Away podcast with Sam Oches to talk about how Bluestone Lane distinguishes between convenience and quality, how it thrives across different case-based models. customer usage and why young families are the brand’s coveted demographic. Here are the five takeaways from her conversation with Stone:
1. Convenience is not always king. The American coffee market is built on the idea of convenience, getting in and out of coffee or drive-thru as quickly as possible. And the digital innovations of the past few years have made the process of getting a coffee or espresso no more difficult than pushing a button on your phone.
But Bluestone Lane was founded on the tenets of Australian coffee culture, which is more about slowing down, connecting with other people, and enjoying a premium product. Before the pandemic, this strategy had helped Bluestone reach 50 locations in six years. And despite the brand’s struggles at the start of the pandemic, that strategy has helped Bluestone bounce back and it’s something that Stone says continues to be in high demand.
“When I came to the United States, I realized that Starbucks had done so well in making espresso coffee more commercial, increasing its proliferation and awareness of the taste profile, but they had done so by focusing on the convenience, ”he said. “And I realized there is a way to deliver top quality coffee, a dedication to service and to have locals, not customers.”
2. Creating those premium experiences doesn’t mean you have to ditch digital tools.. Bluestone Lane may want people to slow down and comfortably enjoy their artisanal food and drink, but that experience can always be made easier by new ordering technology. In fact, Bluestone has invested in a new app that allows customers to order take out or dinner, so if they want to skip the line while sitting down to enjoy their meal, they can and they always will. personalized service. .
“It’s not about replacing service or human connection, it’s about increasing the experience, and I don’t see that as shifting roles or erasing the need for people,” said Stone. “I think it makes the customer experience more efficient, more informed, more educational and gives them all the convenience.”
3. You can create multiple concepts to fit multiple use cases. Bluestone Lane has two models it has invested in for growth, one being a cafe that you might find at the bottom of an office building, and another being a cafe that is more of a sit-down, food-focused experience. , and which works well in more residential areas. Stone said this strategy – experimenting with real estate, local demographics, and the service model to match your local customer’s ordering habits and designing prototypes around those habits – gained momentum during the pandemic, but was part of Bluestone from the start.
“If you look at Chipotle and Taco Bell, they probably have 8 or 10 different concepts now,” he said. “We always had multiple concepts because we could see that the use case was quite different and the value proposition really meant that we had to be able to distribute and meet our premises in different ways. And I think it played on our real strengths.
4. There is an opportunity at the intersection between home and office. Stone pointed out that Bluestone’s business in office quarters is drastically reduced due to the pandemic, and he doesn’t think it will be back anytime soon. But its activity in residential areas is booming.
With the explosion of the work-from-home movement, more and more Americans are looking for dining opportunities in suburbs and urban residential neighborhoods. And more often than not, those who work from home are looking for a place to retreat so they are not at home 24/7.
“I think Bluestone Lane will be such a wonderful place for these different suburban and urban residential markets where people have business meetings, where they have it for breakfast, they have it for lunch,” Stone said. “You don’t have to go to the office to meet. You can meet somewhere where someone lives.
5. Young families are a gold mine for long-term loyalty – and breakfast can be the time of day that brings them to. Bluestone Lane has put a lot of effort into being the coffee brand of choice for millennials, who are now starting their own families. Stone points out that breakfast and brunch are generally more popular for family businesses because it’s not as formal or as complicated as dinner. Bluestone Lane wants to become the gastronomic destination of choice for these young families and ensure their loyalty for decades to come.
“We have this younger customer base who is the customer of the future. They will be in the workforce for the next 20 to 30 years. As they get older they are most likely going to earn more, they are going to focus more on what they are consuming. And then they have their own families and are really focused on how they feed their families and how they live, and I think that is all playing out very well for our ambitions and our growth opportunity. It’s a phenomenal white space.