Grocery retailer H-E-B further dissolved the boundaries between groceries and restaurants this week when it opened a food hall at one of its Austin, TX stores. Dubbed Main Streat, the venue has five restaurants and a full-service bar.
Given the current state of the foodservice industry, now would seem an odd time to open a public space dedicated to restaurant fare. In most states, restaurant dining rooms must operate a reduced capacity. Many businesses are either mandated or choosing to stick to outdoor patio seating, though that will change once colder weather arrives.
H-E-B has clearly considered all of this, as Main Streat caters to the off-premises customer as much as it does the one who wants a patio table. The company said meals from the venue’s five restaurants are available for pickup and delivery (the latter through local third-party delivery service Favor) along with limited seating inside the food hall and on the patio.The to-go format even applies to alcoholic beverages from the aforementioned full-service bar.
Less than a year ago, starting a foodservice business with a built-in off-premises strategy would have been an anomaly. Catering to takeout and delivery formats was certainly becoming an important strategy for these businesses, but that transition was meant to unfold over a longer period of time, say, five years. The pandemic changed all of that, and H-E-B’s to-go-centric food court is one example of something that will become table stakes very soon for restaurants: opening a business with multiple formats from the start.
Main Streat also underscores how our definition of the word “restaurant” is quickly changing, and how the grocery store is a part of that transition. In the last several months, we’ve seen QSRs selling groceries at the drive-thru, third-party delivery services like DoorDash peddling grocery and convenience store items, and the rise of services like Good Egg selling restaurant meals and supplies via e-commerce. All of which is to say, both restaurants and grocery stores seem to be redefining the word “experience” these days, and often doing so together. The common denominator? Off, premises, obviously.