Fast Food Casual….Picnic

imgresPicnic is my latest investment.  Love the place, the team, the founders, the whole thing.  A worthy listen on NPR about Picnic.  Short and sweet….or you can read below.   More press here too.

When I was kid, “What’s for dinner?” was not a question you asked at the last minute. My mom, Dorothy Glinton, was an expert at planning what she would put on the table.

“I always knew what I was going to cook. I didn’t come in running,” Ma recalls.

But these days, even she eats out a few times a week. “But I don’t go to a restaurant in the evening,” she told me. “I do most of my eating in a grocery story right now, picking up a hot soup, going to a salad bar.”

As The Salt has reported, grocery stores aren’t just offering prepared foods. Some are even offering full sit-down experiences inside — what Bonnie Riggs, a restaurant industry analyst for the NPD Group, calls the “groceraunt.”

According to the food data company Food Genius, as many as 80 percent of Americans don’t know what they’re having for dinner by 4 p.m. that same day. Groceraunts are just one of dozens of new options Americans have to help figure out that evening meal.

Those who crave home-cooking but don’t have my mom’s meal-planning prowess can turn to online services like Blue Apron, which delivers everything you need to make dinner — ingredients and recipes.

Of course, those who’d rather not faff around in the kitchen don’t have to. There’s food trucks, takeout, drive-throughs, or delivery ordered through one of many, many apps. Even old concepts like the cafeteria are getting revamped.

Recently, I visited Picnic L.A. in Culver City, Calif., with Eliot Silver and Noah Ellis — two restaurant guys who used to own a fancy-pants restaurant in Beverly Hills called Red Medicine. What made them go from running a high-end restaurant to opening what I have to call (no offense, I told them) a “high-end cafeteria”?

“Same reason we opened Red Medicine,” Ellis said. “We wanted to open a restaurant we wanted to eat at.”

For $15 at Picnic L.A., you can get an entree like poached salmon and two sides. Nearly everything on the menu is local and organic. Patrons move down a line and select the dishes they want. On a given night, Picnic L.A. might serve dinner to 150 people. They need only six employees to do that.

Picnic L.A. is a new type of restaurant that didn’t exist a few years ago. But it, too, faces new competition in the “fast dinner” space, as companies like Uber and GrubHub team up with restaurants to offer delivery services.

“A restaurant operator can get into the delivery business without having to have the insurance, all the liability, all the things associated with it, because they can partner with one of these companies that deliver,” Riggs said. “So it is a growth area, both in-home and away from home.”

As these fast-casual options grow in popularity, visits to traditional fast-food chains are down, says NDP Group’s Riggs. Meanwhile, prepared foods sold at supermarkets, big-box and convenience stores are a bigger and bigger portion of those companies’ profits.

“I think it’s cyclical, but it’s evolutionary, too,” says Silver. “I think people wanting better quality food, that’s a forever thing. I think how they have that and the kind of dining experiences they want to have, that’s cyclical.”


Comments (Archived):

  1. pointsnfigures

    Congrats. Interesting space. I am shocked at the number of 80% but Food Genius does great stats so I don’t doubt it. Of the 80% I wonder how many make a choice based on a real dietary restriction like kosher/halal/gluten or a self imposed one like paleo/atkins etc? Is that important for the food operation?

    1. Gotham Gal

      I think what is the most important is where they are sourcing their food which gives people the opportunity to make smart decisions about what they are eating.

      1. pointsnfigures

        I think where they are sourcing is pretty great. Would love to see more of this enabled in America. That’s a different topic. But, the more picnics there are the more demand for supply which will cause those kinds of ingredients to become cheaper and more accessible to everyone. I am wondering in terms of search and transaction what is going through the 80% mind. What’s critically important to them that makes them choose?

  2. Erin

    Nice work.

  3. Jenna Abdou

    LOVE this!

  4. Alison Winer Dinerstein

    Need to try! Will put that on my list!

    1. Gotham Gal

      you will love it.

  5. AMT Editorial Staff

    Love this. These places are exactly what seeks to recommend to business travelers. Simple. Good. Easy. What stands out to us about Picnic is the website. Seeing the food…even online…it’s a winning formula. The selection is worthy as well. Of course, we’d love to see serving size and minimal nutrition data…. #wishlist.