Boston Market Comes Out of Hibernation And Adds... Real Silverware

Last Updated May 19, 2010 10:56 AM EDT

Remember Boston Market? The once-bankrupt chain McDonald's (MCD) sold off in 2007 has shrunk by about 100 stores under Sun Capital Partners' ownership, to 520 units. Now, Boston Market is attempting a comeback with an upscale revamp that seeks to lift the troubled chain out of the fast-food dollar-menu fray.

The problem Boston Market has faced throughout its 25-year history is that it's sort of an odd duck out -- or odd chicken. Originally a rotisserie chicken chain that morphed into a broader deli menu, it's more expensive than fast food at a typical $7 a meal, yet presents a more casual countenance than other fast-casual success stories such as Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG). Meanwhile, grocery stores rolled into Boston Market's territory with similar take-home food customers could more conveniently pick up along with their gallon of milk.

The chain's managers seek to address these problems by repositioning the chain more on the upside, as a place to stay and dine as much as grab takeout. The revamped stores add healthier dishes such as green beans and reduced-salt gravy, additional staff, and something you'd never see in a McDonald's -- real plates and silverware.

The hot-foot serving station in the redone stores looks like a series of chef's pots sitting on a stove rather than the usual industrial trays. In a 10-store test in Florida, company CEO Lane Cardwell reported the test stores have seen double-digit sales gains. Boston Market may rollout the makeover chainwide shortly.

It remains to be seen if the changes can help this also-ran brand recapture customers' attention. The $30,000 makeovers don't address the restaurants' facades, which have changed little in the chain's 25 years and still scream "fast food." On the upside, that's a very cheap price-tag for a makeover that appears to be driving a substantial business uptick.

Boston Market's got little to lose in rolling it out, and once the upgrade is chainwide, a marketing push could get the word out. It likely won't lure grocery shoppers back to making a second stop for rotisserie chicken, but fast-casual diners might give it another try. For now, the chain is stuck promoting deep-discount offers, as with its current TV ad for a second rotisserie chicken for $1.99.

Silverware photo via Flickr user Cookieater2009; Boston Market logo from Sun Capital

  • Carol Tice

    Carol Tice is a longtime business reporter whose work has appeared in Entrepreneur, The Seattle Times, and Nation's Restaurant News, among others. Online sites she's written for include Allbusiness.com and Yahoo!Hotjobs. She blogs about the business of writing at Make a Living Writing.