Sandy Kresch likes to relax for a few minutes after driving 30 miles from her house in Rockville to Wegmans supermarket in Sterling. She picks a quiet table along a balcony and settles in for a lunch of a chicken wing or two. Grocery shopping can wait. The convenience of dining right in the store is a pivotal part of Kresch's "special outing" to Wegmans.
"I can do the outlet stores in Leesburg, then have lunch here and get the shopping done. Make a day of it," says Kresch, a homemaker who is job hunting in the legal field. Wegmans "has really good wings. Prices are good. But if you don't take the edge off your hunger, you can spend a lot of money here."
Wegmans Supermarket a new feature to the area offers customers elevated service and a complete line of lunchtime menus to suit almost any palate. The Wokery or steam table is a complete line of asian/chinese foods.
(Mark Finkenstaedt - For The Washington Post)
Kresch is dining alone, but she has plenty of company. At 12:30 on a recent Monday, all 280 seats are occupied in the mezzanine seating area of the sprawling Wegmans grocery store that opened last February.
Altogether, Wegmans -- with its specialty departments for housewares, wine and cheese, and the separate prepared food, self-service cafe -- occupies 130,000 square feet, four times the size of the average supermarket.
From her quiet lunch-hour table, Kresch looks down on a shopping and dining experience that is increasingly common in the Washington area. From the Korean Korner International Market to Whole Foods, Safeway and Global Food, tables near the aisles reflect lifestyle changes that cause people to sit down and eat in places they may have never before considered. Drawn by convenience, speed and variety, Wegmans customers can eat lunch overlooking the European-style Market Cafe or grab food to take home. In one corner of the cafe, a parade that could be likened to that of worker bees carries trays of hot entrees and sandwiches up a wide, L-shaped staircase to the dining area while a tray-less second line marches down. Chefs in monogrammed white jackets and tall pleated paper hats make the rounds of the separate pizza, deli and fresh-baked bread stations.
To maximize intimacy, the lighting level is far lower than in a traditional supermarket. Seating styles vary from cafe chair to stools to love seats with coffee tables and withenough room to position a stroller.
Along one wall, Caesar salads are made to order. A few feet away, customers have a choice of Alfredo, marinara or vodka sauce on the hot pasta. At one station called the Outer Loop, there are open-face sandwiches of crab cake and grilled salmon crisscrossed with bacon. Turkey chili is served in a hollowed-out round loaf of crusty bread. Folks who keep kosher have their own area for, perhaps, meat-stuffed cabbage and potato pancakes or a Waldorf salad.
Office workers from the nearby high-tech Dulles corridor as well as folks in sweat clothes and guys in matching T-shirts from the Loudoun County Fire and Rescue squad surround the Wokery -- an Asian steam-table concept that offers 40 different dishes including salt and pepper mussels, Thai curry chicken and Shanghai shrimp.
Every week 7,000 pounds of Asian-style food is sold at this store, according to executive chef Llewellyn Correia. "About 20 percent of the total crowd" chooses the Asian food, he says, then adds: "Wait until Super Bowl. It will be even more crazy."
Dining in a supermarket is nothing new. Wegmans has simply taken it one giant step forward, with more options and more seating. This family-owned company opened its first store in Rochester in 1916 and operated a 300-seat cafeteria in that store in the 1930s. Wegmans launched its first Market Cafe at a Corning, N.Y., store in 1992.
Most of the large Asian supermarkets in the area, such as Lotte Plaza in Fairfax and Silver Spring and Korean Korner International in Wheaton, have in-store dining sections. At Super H Mart in Fairfax, a half-dozen food concessions that sell Chinese, Japanese and Korean prepared foods share a counter and a seating area for 30.
Global Food in Manassas mixes it up. Its 30-seat dining area is shared by concessions that make rotisserie chicken, Korean and Chinese fare, and Salvadoran meals. Giant Food has a a maximum of eight tables in about 25 of their stores in the area.
"It adds to the shopping experience to see people enjoying food," says Whole Foods spokeswoman Sarah Kenney.
Whole Foods has 13 stores in the Washington area. With the exception of the Bethesda store, all have dining areas with an average of 40 to 60 seats. But Whole Foods and Wegmans have very different dining concepts, according to Kenney.