Chopt location exterior.
From digitizing its customer ordering experience to forging partnerships with like-minded brands, Chopt is aiming to connect deeper with its customer base and drive sales. — Chopt

Why it matters:

  • Sixty-six percent of consumers are more likely to order takeout than they were in 2019, per the National Restaurant Association, and CHOPT is offering more digital tools to help them, like an improved mobile app and touchscreen ordering.
  • The in-store experience is also important to many customers, which is why CHOPT allows customers to see salads being made.
  • CHOPT maintains that the quality of the food is paramount, and it seeks ingredient partners that enhance its menu items, such as cookbook author Jessica Seinfeld and ingredients supplier SOMOS.

The growth strategy at salad chain CHOPT is much like its meu items — a blend of different ingredients that all seek to work together to produce a desired result.

The 22-year-old quick-service restaurant (QSR), which now operates more than 80 locations along the East Coast, combines culinary creativity, a careful expansion strategy and digital connectivity with customers to drive ongoing sales growth. It also leverages partnerships with charitable organizations and food entrepreneurs to help the brand engage with the communities where it operates and drive sales.

Its CHOPT Gives campaign, for example, is an ongoing series of partnerships whereby the chain collaborates with like-minded partners each quarter to create digital-exclusive salads in support of organizations focused on creating healthy eating habits for children. This year kicked off with a partnership with the Good+ Foundation, the national nonprofit founded by New York Times bestselling cookbook author Jessica Seinfeld, that fights multigenerational poverty by providing goods and services to low-income households and caregivers.

Tapping partnerships ‘that keep things fresh and interesting’ to drive sales and give back

The Vegan Crunch Salad, which was the featured item in the campaign, was inspired by the Spicy Vegan Tahini dressing recipe from Seinfeld’s cookbook, Vegan, at Times. CHOPT and Seinfeld first partnered in 2021 to launch the Vegan Crunch Salad with a mission to make vegan food satisfying.

“One of the ways we think about driving sales and interest and keeping things fresh at CHOPT is through partnerships, and one of our core values is to be generous and to give back,” said Colin McCabe, Co-founder and Co-President of the chain.

When the company first launched the CHOPT Gives program, it would give away all its food for free on the first day that it opened a new store and ask customers to donate any amount to the local charity that it was partnering with.

“It was a way for us to embed ourselves in the community, and by all accounts, it was a great program,” said McCabe.

Because it was so successful, the company has since expanded the CHOPT Gives program to include partners that are not just focused on charitable initiatives, but were also involved with food, McCabe said.

We are clearly laser-focused on meeting the customer where they now are, which means more digital. But people also like the interactive experience; they like seeing their food being made. So we’re trying to address every customer in a way that they feel like they're getting the very best experience.

Colin McCabe, Co-founder and Co-President, Chopt

Growing with digital — including online-order-only restaurants

In terms of new-restaurant expansion, CHOPT is carefully evaluating opportunities in each of its 14 existing markets, as well as entry into new markets, McCabe said.

In addition to growth through new physical locations, CHOPT is also seeking to drive sales to existing restaurants with digital orders through its mobile app. The company recently launched an updated version of the app and has also been focusing on driving sales through third-party delivery platforms such as Grubhub and DoorDash.

The majority of CHOPT’s orders are digital, a trend that began before the pandemic, but accelerated during the surge on off-premises dining during the last few years, McCabe said. In fact, the company has opened several digital-only restaurants where customers place orders via mobile or in-store via kiosks without interacting with employees at all. The locations include screens that display to customers where their order is in the queue and when it will be ready.

Importantly, customers can still watch orders being made in those restaurants that have transitioned to digital ordering, which preserves an important element of the CHOPT experience.

CHOPT has also begun opening digital drive-thru locations, in which customers can order ahead of time on the mobile app, and then receive a notification to enter the drive-thru when their order is ready.

“We are clearly laser-focused on meeting the customer where they now are, which means more digital,” said McCabe. “But people also like the interactive experience; they like seeing their food being made. So we’re trying to address every customer in a way that they feel like they're getting the very best experience.”

Research from the National Restaurant Association shows that 66% of consumers say they are more likely to order food for takeout than they were in 2019, and 55% of consumers consider takeout and delivery essential.

“The temporary ‘pivots’ developed during the pandemic — expanded delivery services, outdoor dining options, to-go alcohol offerings, and investments in technology — are the foundation of the industry’s ‘new normal,’” the NRA said in announcing its 2023 State of the Industry report.

[Read: How Retailers Are Taking ‘Grab-and-Go’ Checkout to the Next Level to Boost Customer Convenience]

 Colin McCabe, Co-founder and Co-President of Chopt and cookbook author Jessica Seinfeld eating Chopt salads.
Colin McCabe, Co-founder and Co-President of Chopt, with cookbook author Jessica Seinfeld. — Chopt

Food quality key at CHOPT: ‘It became our mission to make healthy eating exciting’

The menu is also key to driving sales at CHOPT, McCabe said. The company has always been focused on ensuring that its salad-driven menu captures ongoing consumer interest, and that it taps into consumers’ interest in eating healthy and living a healthy lifestyle.

“It became our mission to make healthy eating exciting,” he said. “A salad is only as good as its parts. The food landscape has so many artisans and entrepreneurs and founders who are doing really exciting things in food, and we know we can make CHOPT foods taste better when we are introducing these foods into our menu and telling their interesting story for each one of these brands.”

For example, in addition to its collaboration with Seinfeld, CHOPT is also partnering with SOMOS, a Mexican food company run by natives of the country, that touts the authenticity of its recipes. CHOPT has launched a bowl and a salad using some of SOMOS’ ingredients. The chain’s prior food collaborations include a Mediterranean-inspired menu with New York Shuk.

The quality of the food also helps set CHOPT apart from the competition, he said.

“For us it begins and ends with the food, and we say here at CHOPT that ‘better tastes better,’ which is that maniacal, obsessive search for the very best ingredients that deliver on more flavor and are more exciting,” said McCabe. “We have more variety than others in the space, and sourcing is critically important to what we do in telling that story.”

One of the company’s early learnings was that even the salad dressings the chain offers — all of which are made using house-developed recipes — are important to the chain’s mission to provide an elevated culinary experience. Examples include unique formulations such as Smoky Bacon Russian, Chimichurri Ranch, and Sweet & Smoky Chipotle Vinaigrette, which it describes as a spicy cross between barbecue sauce and salad dressing.

“We think that at CHOPT, we are coming from a more creative place in terms of food,” McCabe said. “We have constant pressure on our food and beverage team amongst all of us to really innovate and to bring creativity to our menu. And we think that that comes across in all of our dressings, and all of our foods, and all of our recipes, like the ones we're doing with SOMOS now.”

[Read: Food Companies Tap the Sales Potential of ‘Vegan-Curious’ Consumers]

 Interior of a Chopt location displaying the digital ordering pads.
Chopt has opened several digital-only restaurants where customers place orders via mobile or in-store via kiosks without interacting with employees at all. — Chopt

Leaning into sustainability — from using compostable serveware to reducing energy consumption

Sustainability is also an important aspect of CHOPT’s positioning in the market. The company continually seeks to implement efforts to lessen its impact on the environment.

This effort begins with measuring the impact that the company has on the environment, then looking for ways to reduce it, McCabe explained.

CHOPT already uses 100% compostable bowls and utensils and is always on the lookout for new opportunities to reduce its carbon footprint. The company has also been working with industry experts to help measure and review its energy use and greenhouse gas emissions by each location.

That has resulted in more efficient kitchen operations in a new restaurant that opened last year in Arlington, Virginia, for example, that is using streamlined equipment and some new technologies to minimize energy use. As a result, the restaurant is using 30% less energy per hour and is producing 21% less greenhouse gas emissions, according to McCabe.

“We're not perfect, but that’s a good start,” said McCabe.

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