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Au Bon Pain unveils new redesign

Bakery-café chain says revamp will boost traffic, expand menu items

Au Bon Pain said Tuesday it is redesigning its restaurants to help increase customer traffic and expand menu offerings.

The Boston-based bakery-cafe chain also is testing iPads as an order-taking device in select stores

Au Bon Pain has added create-your-own-salad stations containing 30 ingredients and overhauled its sandwich presentation by adding larger menu boards and options allowing customers to purchase customized or grab-and-go sandwiches and salads.

“Convenience means different things to different people,” said chief executive Sue Morelli, noting that some customers want to design their own salads and sandwiches, while others want the speed of purchasing grab-and-go items.

“The new prototype enables people to shop based on their own time constraints.”

The chain, which has begun revamping its New York locations, has completely remodeled five units and “refreshed” another 13, Morelli said.

The redesign is the result of market research the company conducted during the recession, she said.

Au Bon Pain also has broadened its beverage menu to include green tea, Snapple, HonestTea, Coca-Cola products as well as existing Pepsi products, and smart water and coconut water selections.

The chain, which operates nearly 200 restaurants in the United States, also has introduced value offerings, including a small soup and half sandwich for $6.99.

The redesign included adding orange and green accents to the restaurants’ mostly yellow design, giving the staff black uniforms with sunburst orange aprons, and putting employees through several days of service retraining in an effort to engage customers better.

That training includes managing the flow of customers as well as offering samples, making suggestions for accompaniments and thanking customers as they leave.

“It sounds commonplace, but it’s easier said than done,” Morelli said.

Morelli added the renovated and “refreshed” stores have seen a 10-percent increase in same-store sales — not due to increased average checks but to higher customer counts. The sales mix also has shifted slightly away from soup and toward salads and sandwiches, she said.

She added that the use of iPads has created buzz among guests, but she is not yet sure if they are more efficient than traditional ordering methods. Morelli said an online ordering system would be tested starting at the end of summer.

Au Bon Pain also announced the appointment of a new executive chef, Stefano Cordova.

Most recently the vice president and executive chef of Bertucci’s Italian Restaurants, Cordova also has worked for Restaurant Associates which, like Au Bon Pain, caters to urban, fast-paced customers in high-foot-traffic areas.

The redesign is being implemented as the chain accelerates unit growth. Morelli said ABP will have opened 20 units in fiscal 2011, which ends in August, and has plans to open another 20 in fiscal 2012.

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected].
Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary

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