Forget the food trucks or military posts or even college and university campuses. If you want to know which is among the fastest growing segments for restaurant food, it is a category the National Restaurant Association calls “retail-host restaurants.” It is a label that captures all those in-store restaurants that are popping up in grocery stores, convenience stores, drug stores. Sales by these in-store restaurants this past year topped $40 billion. Whole Foods Market stores come with restaurants offering hot meals along with beer and wine service. Wegmans has opened full-service pubs. Half of the 7/11 stores being opened do not sell gas, but do offer sit down food services. National Restaurant Association (NRA) data shows that retail-host restaurants are growing at a rate of near 6 percent a year, a level matched only by nonalcoholic beverage and snack bars and quick service fast-casual restaurants. As the build up of retail-host restaurants has occurred, owners of traditional casual dining outlets have been squeezed. And there appears to be no end to the retail-host trend, with reports of sit down restaurants being added to the floor plans of chain drug stores and even new car dealerships. The NRA definition of a retail-host restaurant now includes health and personal care store restaurants, general merchandise store restaurants, variety store restaurants, food store and grocery store restaurants — including a portion of deli and salad bars — gasoline service staton restaurants and miscellaneous retailers. This fast-growing segment has not drawn any special attention to itself from a food safety perspective, but there are some concerns emerging. Such as: Licenses and inspections — If included under an existing license, such as one for a major grocery store, the new in-store restaurant might be inspected less often than a competing stand-alone restaurant down the street. Biosecurity concerns — Retail-host restaurants located inside big box stores may not take into account the lengthy periods of time when doors are open, both to allow the comings and goings of customers through the front doors, and to re-supply the huge building through the back doors. Staffing — Some have expressed operational concerns about in-store restaurants that are not sufficiently staffed, especially during off-peak dining hours. Sparsely staffed locations could create food safety problems, especially if buffets are left unattended. Roy Costa, owner of Florida’s Environ Health Associates Inc. and professor at the Walt Disney World Center for Hospitality and Culinary Arts, says retail-host restaurants should not be any different than free-standing restaurants. Yet, he says, they do raise “unique situations” that will need attention. Costa says without a strategy to keep pests out of “big box” stores, the very operation of the building will bring them in. “Pest control is difficult,” says Costa. “Keeping rodents, insects and birds out becomes a critical issue once an in-house restaurant is opened.” Like others, Costa questions the need for so many businesses to open a restaurant. “How much food do we really need?” he wonders. But he adds that if issues involving the physical space are addressed at the beginning, challenges can usually be overcome. Retail hosted restaurants until now have been dominated by the nation’s 38,000 full-service grocery stores. Restaurants in grocery stores took in about $3 out of every $4 in revenue generated by the retail hosted group. As they move into locations not that much associated with the food industry, different trends may develop.