HARRIS TEETER PUTS SAVINGS ON THE MENU

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Harris Teeter is finding ways to liven up its food court operations and at the same time cut down on labor costs.The trick, in effect, is to turn the back room inside out.The chain is bringing back-room functions, such as production and packaging of self-service salads and chilled pizzas, into food stations on the selling floor during off-peak daytime hours.Those functions had been

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Harris Teeter is finding ways to liven up its food court operations and at the same time cut down on labor costs.

The trick, in effect, is to turn the back room inside out.

The chain is bringing back-room functions, such as production and packaging of self-service salads and chilled pizzas, into food stations on the selling floor during off-peak daytime hours.

Those functions had been relegated to a third shift in the back room during the night. By dragging them out into the open, Harris Teeter has ultimately been able to scrap the third shift altogether.

That one move represents a 25% to 30% reduction in man-hours for the food-service department, according to Gianfranco DiCarlo, director of deli, bakery and food service at the 140-unit chain.

The boon came from the need to shore up a profit structure that was not as sturdy as Harris Teeter had expected. "Our food courts are not as profitable with hot food as we had hoped they would be," DiCarlo said.

In another change that is saving on labor, the chain also has plucked its Caesar salad program from its own island on the floor and placed it in line with other food-service functions behind the counter.

Consolidating labor is not the only food court improvement up DiCarlo's sleeve. To stimulate sales, he is placing new emphasis on chilled, prepared entrees and side dishes.

The chain, for example, recently introduced a Chef Sampler program at a single price point. Using a four-compartment tray, customers may choose an entree and three side dishes from among any of the items in the service case for $5.99.

"That has pushed up our food court business, and it gives customers the opportunity to taste different products. It sets them up for a future purchase of a larger quantity," DiCarlo said.