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How Modern Market Eatery Engineered Its Menu to Reduce Food and Labor Costs

The innovative fast-casual franchise keeps food and labor costs below the industry benchmark of 60% without sacrificing the essence of made-from-scratch, sustainable cooking.

Modern Market Eatery, the 30-plus-unit, fast-casual franchise under the Modern Restaurant Concepts umbrella, believes that quantity and quality aren’t mutually exclusive. With a large, chef-inspired menu that doesn't cut corners despite the fast-paced environment in which it thrives, Modern Market has worked hard to engineer a franchise model that keeps food and labor costs down without sacrificing on quality.

“We offer a fresh, made-from-scratch menu,” said Nate Weir, vice president of culinary at Modern Restaurant Concepts. “When people experience our concept for the first time, they see all of our offerings and wonder: How do they do it all? It must be expensive and complicated. But behind the scenes, we’ve engineered our recipes and our operations in a way that ensures franchisees can execute on the business easily and cost-effectively. That is really the secret sauce of Modern Market.”

Innovative Menu Engineering

So, with a menu that spans salads, sandwiches, bowls and even pizzas, how does Modern Market keep food costs down?

It may seem counterintuitive, but by using all made-from-scratch ingredients — whole vegetables and fruits, raw chicken, etc. — Modern Market avoids the extra expenses often associated with products. 

“Believe it or not, our higher-quality ingredients actually save us money,” said Weir. “Our scratch-made philosophy is not only central to our brand identity but also crucial for maintaining cost efficiency.”

Moreover, the strategic use of core ingredients across multiple menu items and the careful structuring of the menu play crucial roles in keeping costs manageable. 

“We have some core ingredients that can be used across various items like sandwiches, grain bowls and salads, and then we have some ingredients that are just lower cost in general,” said Weir. “Our cheese pizza, for example, is under 20% food costs, and that offsets the costs of a higher category item like salads. Every aspect of the menu has been meticulously designed to not only satisfy the customer but also reduce overall costs for the owner.” 

Labor Efficiency and Kitchen Design

In today’s restaurant climate, labor costs often surpass food expenses, and Weir says the Modern Market model has been designed with that in mind. "In almost all of our restaurants, we only need one prep cook, maybe two," Weir said, emphasizing that every job in the restaurant can successfully be performed by hourly employees with basic training and minimal experience. “Staff is coming in daily for a six-to-eight-hour shift, where they can execute all the prep for the entire restaurant.”

This efficiency is further amplified in the brand's latest prototype, where the entire menu, except for pizzas, is prepared along a single but double-sided make line. This design not only helps achieve the speed and efficiency expected of quick-service restaurants (QSRs), but also facilitates cross-training among employees, ensuring flexibility and consistency in customer service.

“In essence, your team members are trained on the entire menu,” said Weir. “If you work at that station, you know how to make everything. You don’t have to train one salad cook and one sandwich cook, for example.”

Weir notes that all of this is being achieved in a space as small as 2,000 square feet, and with significantly lower equipment costs than most competitors. Achieving this efficiency also involves comprehensive training and specific preparation techniques that are applicable to various ingredients.

“For instance, we extensively use a food processor, and our primary cooking equipment is combi ovens, eliminating the need for traditional ovens, exhaust hoods, microwaves and grills,” Weir said. 

Supply Chain and Buying Power

Of course, this carefully-engineered menu design and operational model can only succeed if the right supply chain is in place. 

With the backing of its parent company, Modern Restaurant Concepts, which also owns Qdoba, Modern Market can harness the buying power of an 800-unit chain. This means franchisees benefit from a formidable supply chain network and operational resources that many competitors lack. The result? Lower prices and stronger relationships. 

“We have an amazing supply chain team, from the manufacturers all the way through to the sell points,” said Weir. “Qdoba has been a huge asset for us in this regard as well — being under the same umbrella is a huge advantage that most brands don’t have. Our cost of avocados is minus two dollars the market average!" 

A Future-Proof Concept

Overall, whether it is the supply chain or the made-from-scratch menu, Weir says the brand’s big-picture strategy can be summed up in one word found right in its name: modern

“We are a fast-casual franchise built specifically for today,” he said. “We have a chef-inspired menu with something for everyone, but we don’t have to make cost sacrifices for our franchisees. We are offering that scratch-made food that consumers want, and we’ve figured out how to do it in a real, repeatable and consistent fast-casual setting. That is what sets us up for success in the future.”

With an eye on expansion and a commitment to its core values, Modern Market Eatery is poised for continued growth. For entrepreneurs passionate about food, sustainability and community, joining the Modern Market franchise represents a unique opportunity to be part of a brand that is redefining the fast-casual dining experience.

The estimated initial investment ranges between $928,500 and $1.5 million for a single Modern Market Eatery restaurant. The 18 company-owned Modern Market locations open for the fiscal year of 2023 saw an impressive AUV of $2.3 million.*

*More details are available in Modern Market Eatery’s Franchise Disclosure Document (FDD).

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