A friend of mine visited the new Hy-Vee grocery store in Waukee, Iowa on opening day and told me that this Hy-Vee was so fancy that it had its own bar. A bar? In a Hy-Vee? What? My local Hy-Vee has a small tile-floor area with booths where you can always count on the following people:
- An elderly couple sharing whatever the daily special is with the goal to not spend more than $5.00 total for the meal — for both of them;
- A divorced dad or mom with whatever kid they have for visitation;
- An immigrant family that knows that this is the cheapest meal not made in their own kitchen; and
- A table of absolutely gigantic people taking advantage of the “buy by the pound” option that is afforded by grocery store deli operations.
So, what is Hy-Vee doing putting a bar in a grocery store? I had to find out for myself. So we drove out to Hy-Vee in Waukee. For a Sunday evening, the place was pretty busy. From the outside it looks like every other Hy-Vee I’ve seen, though maybe a tad bit larger. After going through the entire store we hadn’t found the bar. We did find a nice tasting room in the Wine and Spirits section — but no bar. So, we went back to the deli.Sure enough, while there is still a small area where you can eat the food you buy from the quarter-mile line of deli counters, we found tall glass doors hiding a complete sit-down, take your order, restaurant. A sign posted outside notifies potential diners that they cannot bring shopping carts into the Grill. While that makes sense at one level, aren’t most of the people at Hy-Vee there to load food into carts? Anyway, upon entering the Grill, we were met with two well trained and enthusiastic maître d’s* who were happy to show us the main menu and a special drinks menu. The Hy-Vee Grill has a high-end finish any corporate-owned upper-end restaurant would be proud to have, and one that any independent chef can generally only dream about. Along the west wall of the Grill was the bar. Behind the bar was a real live bartender. And along with the bartender were the accoutrements, liquor, beer, wine, and other supplies common to those in the bar industry.
It will be interesting to see how Hy-Vee’s experiment goes. I can certainly see the attraction to becoming more vertically integrated. Hy-Vee has already joined the other major grocery chains in selling meals in lieu of just the ingredients to make those meals. After all, there is a huge markup between the cost of the raw goods and a finished meal at a restaurant. We are talking about going from 1-5% (at best) in marginal profit to selling those same products in finished goods that sell for many times the cost of the ingredients. So, it makes sense to take that one step farther and to keep the consumer right there in your building so you can charge them for the ambience that goes along with a regular restaurant dinner. Why not do the same thing with the liquor? After all, restaurants regularly mark up wine by 100% and beer and hard liquor by even more.
I’m sure that marketing experts at Hy-Vee have a word or phrase for this effort, maybe “keeping the customer.” Whether shoppers will want to knock back a martini at Hy-Vee remains to be seen. I did see a family out for a nice meal at a restaurant and several other groups that don’t fit into the usual Hy-Vee deli diner demographic, so maybe Hy-Vee is on to something. I also spotted a couple on what looked to be on a blind date visiting the restaurant, but I don’t think of Hy-Vee when I’m going over drinking options with the buddies. Who is the target market here? Maybe one spouse can sit out the grocery shopping experience in the bar while the other loads up and pays for the cart. That doesn’t exactly strike me as the most romantic of evenings. But who’s to say? I suppose it might not be a bad compromise for busy couples wanting to squeeze in dinner and drinks before loading the carts. By one or two drinks at the Hy-Vee bar and by the time you are done loading up on food your BAC is likely to be back to normal.
The bar seemed to be fully equipped. There were a number of craft brews available, and Hy-Vee also offers a growler service. Buy a growler in the Wine and Spirits section for $10 and you can get refills for only $6. The bar also featured one of those new wine dispensers that prevents oxidation. The hard liquor section seemed to be a bit light, but I could not see what might be hidden below the counter. I also don’t know that the hard drinking crowd is what Hy-Vee is aiming for here.
Perhaps the one-stop shopping/drinking/eating concept will work. Instead of looping around the western suburbs fighting for parking and a reservation at three different spots, park once and get it all done in one place. Somehow I don’t think that the downtown edgy/cool bars or the chef-owned restaurants have much to fear from this concept. But Perkins and Applebee’s better get ready for some competition.
*I know what you English majors are thinking. The plural of maître d can’t be maître d’s. But I refer you to Merriam- Webster Online. So there.