ELIMINATING THE BARRIERS AT WEGMANS

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Wegmans Food Markets here is bringing its Market Cafe out of the corner and into the traffic in a strategy meant to help it capture the attention of more shoppers -- and a bigger bite of store sales.The chain is removing the external barriers that have separated the interior of the Market Cafe, Wegmans' extensive in-store food-service concept, from the store's general traffic flow,

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Wegmans Food Markets here is bringing its Market Cafe out of the corner and into the traffic in a strategy meant to help it capture the attention of more shoppers -- and a bigger bite of store sales.

The chain is removing the external barriers that have separated the interior of the Market Cafe, Wegmans' extensive in-store food-service concept, from the store's general traffic flow, according to a local industry observer who is familiar with the chain's operations.

Wegmans officials declined to comment on any changes the chain has been making in its food court strategy. The local source told SN that the chain, which has about 50 upscale stores, also has revved up its emphasis on takeout. The changes can be seen as a direct reaction to Boston Market's expansion into Wegmans' market, the source said.

"I think a lot of lessons have been learned at Wegmans and they're making changes accordingly," said the source.

The cafes, launched a little more than three years ago, are full-blown hot food operations, featuring separate food stations and seating both inside and outside the store that accommodates up to 250 people.

In most stores the Market Cafe is tucked into the front corner. Until now the food stations and customer seating have been segregated from the store's traffic flow.

While that may have enabled the cafes to establish themselves as distinct destination points, another less desirable result of that configuration was that it appeared the Market Cafes were becoming increasingly isolated from the dynamics of the store.

At a Market Cafe opened last fall inside a new Wegmans unit in Dickson City, Pa., for example, devices such as lengths of fencing and shopping cart racks functioned as obvious barriers between the cafe and the rest of the store.

Wegmans has now begun pulling down those barriers and making other changes to reintegrate the cafe within the larger experience of shopping the store.