Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen has culminated its “scratch cooking” positioning with the opening this week of a new prototype in Lake Worth, Texas.
The Irving, Texas-based casual-dining operator opened its 166th unit on Monday, which highlights the kitchen and includes its first dedicated carry-out entrance.
Ian Baines, Cheddar’s president and CEO since October 2014, told Nation’s Restaurant News that the prototype brings together the brand’s efforts to differentiate itself with freshness and transparency.
“We’ve always had an established differentiation with our scratch cooking,” Baines said. “This is just about shouting it a little louder.”
The Lake Worth prototype also offers Cheddar’s first dedicated carry-out area, which has close access to the kitchen, but is separated from the main dining room and bar areas. The new carry-out area has its own entrance on the right side of the 7,300-square-foot building and its own registers. It serves as an alternative to the pickup in the bar area in older locations.
Average carryout sales for the entire system are about 8 percent, and the range is 4 percent to as high as 14 percent of sales.
“We know we have opportunities there,” Baines said.
“It’s a growing segment of the business in general. It is much more efficient and easier for the guest.”
Inside the restaurant, the décor features natural woods, stone, natural lights and plants.
“Our customers think of Cheddar’s as a ‘dining out’ experience rather than an ‘eating out’ experience,” Baines said. “We maintain the butcher-block tables, real brick and Austin stone. Anything the guest touches is of high quality.”
Photo: Ron Ruggless
The kitchen opens to the dining area, separated by large glass panels, to emphasize Cheddar’s scratch-cooking positioning.
“From the research that we did in talking about what scratch cooking is and how we could bring it to life in the restaurant design, the customers said they were looking for a kitchen-like feel. So this is all about the natural light and the plants that we have,” said Claudia Schaefer, Cheddar’s chief marketing officer.
Schaefer said the kitchen provides a centerpiece to punctuate the scratch-cooking positioning. Popular menu items are hand-battered onion rings, house-smoked baby back ribs, savory Santa Fe Spinach Dip and Cheddar’s Legendary Monster Cookie.
“We are finally communicating on all the points of what ‘scratch cooking’ is,” she said.
“It’s just another expression of transparency,” Baines added. “From a Millennial standpoint, they have driven our industry to be more authentic. They are conscious of what they consuming.”
The dining room offers more tables to accommodate parties of varying sizes, Baines said. Taller tables have been added to the bar area, which provides for more socializing, he said. It seats about 255 customers.
While the prototype is about 700 square feet smaller than earlier units, the kitchen has been radically redesigned to accommodate efficiencies, Baines said.
“We reconfigured the line,” he said. “Over the years, the menu has evolved. So, in the kitchen, we started from scratch. We were able to optimize the kitchen.”
Ian Baines and Claudia Schaefer. Photo: Ron Ruggless
The optimization included how the restaurant gets its deliveries. The restaurant’s refrigerator has an outside entrance, gated on the inside, which allows deliveries to come directly into the refrigeration, rather than passing through another checkpoint.
“Because of our volume, a delivery can be 600 to 800 pieces,” Baines said.
“We tried to consider anything that would make it easier for our cooks and our managers. Even the truck driver likes it because he doesn’t have to wheel everything through the kitchen, and it saves him time.”
The design process included feedback from customers, as well as from staff members in the kitchen, the front of the house and the bar, Baines said.
The kitchen design was tested in a week-long warehouse simulation with employees.
Cheddar’s was founded in 1979 by Aubrey Good and Doug Rogers. In January, the company acquired 44 locations from its largest franchisee, Greer Companies, and it now owns and operates 140 of the brand’s 166 locations in 29 states.
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