Some grocers are taking the rise in the popularity of prepared foods really seriously — by opening their own sit-down restaurants independent from stores.

The latest grocer to take the plunge is Publix Super Markets Inc., which debuted a 1,000-square-foot stand-alone Carrabba's Italian Market restaurant at one of its stores in Sarasota, Fla., in July. In June, meanwhile, Safeway opened a 5,000-square-foot freestanding restaurant called Citrine New World Bistro in Redwood City, Calif.

For Publix, launching an in-store restaurant is an efficient way to test the concept. “The savings are tremendous,” says Manny Vegas, joint venture partner for Southwest Florida at Carrabba's. “Instead of requiring a 5,000-square-foot pad, it's much easier to partner with a brand of the same quality and require just 750 square feet.”

The Carrabba's is located between the Publix store's floral department and deli, has a separate in-store kitchen and limited seating for diners.