Mark-FreemanMark FreemanAs a result, the recession accelerated the evolution of our roles as B&I foodservice professionals. Like the employees our operations serve daily, we have been asked to take on additional tasks that once were not considered part of our roles or responsibilities. For example, many companies used to have managers for conference rooms, audio/visual services and even foodservice. Where three people used to handle these activities, the responsibilities are now the domain of one person.

Yes, the economy drove this consolidation and, yes, the economy continues to improve. But that does not mean B&I foodservice will shed these additional responsibilities; this is "the new normal" and folks in our segment will keep these tasks even as things improve, just as the other professionals in other industries will.

So what does this mean for the B&I foodservice segment? Well, for starters, we are still fortunate that a number of corporations wisely value foodservice as part of their amenities plans. While we may not always report to human resources, most companies still see B&I foodservice as an employee benefit that can help with wellness, morale and productivity.

And our operator community still generally consists of two types of client liaisons: those that work in self-managed facilities and those that work with managed services. Moving forward, however, our focus will broaden to include more of a hospitality orientation. And, when you think about it, this is a pretty natural evolution for the B&I foodservice professional. Whether self operated or with managed services, these client liaisons have the training to handle such hospitality issues as customer service and on-the-spot problem solving that leads to flawless execution when catering to a meeting or even serving the daily lunch items to the general employee population. The good news is that these hospitality skills translate to other areas. For example, responding to a customer situation where they are less than pleased requires a similar approach when dealing with an audio/visual challenge in a meeting room.

To reflect the evolving role of the B&I foodservice operator, the Society for Foodservice Management (SFM) will change its name during the organization's annual conference in Bonita Springs, Fla., on October 1, 2013. Moving forward, the organization will be known as the Society for Hospitality and Foodservice Management (SHFM).

Even though SHFM's name change now includes hospitality, the client-liaison members remain passionate about the food. We specifically kept foodservice management connected in the new name because food is our core and it always will be. Even if a current SFM member is not managing one of these new hospitality areas yet, chances are they will be in the future. So, from an educational standpoint, they need to know not only the key performance indicators (KPIs) of these new programs but also suppliers associated with this advancing sector.

In addition to being more reflective of our members' evolving roles and responsibilities, introducing the hospitality aspect of our organization will lead to growth for SHFM. The reciprocal property of making such a transition means that SHFM may find some facilities mangers that want or need to learn more about foodservice and we can learn more from their experiences too. Our organization has a proud heritage when it comes to networking and this will continue to be a strong draw. SHFM members have much to learn from each other.

For a change like this to have real meaning and provide value to our existing and new members it has to be more than superficial. As a result, the industry will see SHFM's strategy evolve in the months following the conference as the organization rolls out new education and networking opportunities such as webinars, training programs, local events and more. The intent is to help our members, regardless of whether they came from the hospitality or foodservice management side of the organization, improve their skills and be ready to meet the challenges of the day.

Another key component to a successful transition like this is getting the members' support. And I am happy to report that's the case with SHFM. Since announcing the planned name change this past spring, my role as SFM president has afforded me the opportunity to speak with members, all of whom were very excited that we've made this move. We also reached out to past leaders of the organization and they see this transition as a real growth opportunity and something we should do based on the way our client liaison and self-operator roles are changing. All in all, the response has been very positive.

A Look Ahead

As client liaisons like me take on more, our time becomes more valuable. So we will look to those suppliers that support us to give us greater service in a more expeditious manner than in the past. Because our time is split, we rely on them to provide their expertise to help us manage these services.

Supply chain partners need to be proactive and bring innovation to our relationships too. And this is not just about the food. Innovation should apply to wellness, efficiency and more. And as SHFM grows into a new organization, we will see experts in audio/visual or conference center management joining our ranks. They will need to draw on the expertise of the members of the traditional foodservice supply chain as they embrace their expanding roles and responsibilities. At the same time, suppliers and vendors that support running a conference center or an audio/visual service will now be a welcome part of the discussion with SHFM. Together, we must foster new ideas, ways to manage projects and much more as these two entities — hospitality and foodservice — continue to merge.