Foodservice Opinions

Opinion pieces on the foodservice equipment and supplies industry from leaders and laymen from all aspects of the business, including dealers, distributors, design consultants and multi-unit operators.

Creating Additional Revenue Streams

We’ve all heard the saying “when life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” Beverage metaphor notwithstanding, we are operating in a time when we have to take a fresh look at the way we do business to improve shrinking margins.

Crew-Centric Designs

Menu evolution, specifically in the form of diversification and customization, means the front of the house will continue to send larger amounts of information back to the already bustling commercial kitchen. As a result it is becoming simultaneously more difficult and critical for foodservice operators across all segments to manage and analyze how staff members leverage the information to ensure customer hospitality and generate a profit.

Cognitive Ergonomics for Foodservice Operations

Menu evolution, specifically in the form of diversification and customization, means the front of the house will continue to send larger amounts of information back to the already bustling commercial kitchen. As a result it is becoming simultaneously more difficult and critical for foodservice operators across all segments to manage and analyze how staff members leverage the information to ensure customer hospitality and generate a profit.

Signs of Things to Come?

With the calendar finally displaying 2010 dates, I look forward to shaking off the doldrums from the previous year and am excited about what 2010 holds for the foodservice industry. Still, the trials and tribulations of 2009 were not without their benefits. Indeed, the challenging business and social environment taught us all some valuable lessons and reminded us of a few fundamental foodservice truths that will never change. With that in mind, here are my key observations from last year.

It's All About the Menu and It Always Will Be

The menu is the heart and soul of any foodservice operation and 2009 only confirmed that. Though consumers spent more time at home, they still ate out, meaning that despite the economy, there still was significant demand for food prepared away from home. What did change was how consumers defined value, illustrated by how they traded down or patronized restaurants with creative menu packaging and pricing. At the end of the day, the promise of something special at the center of the plate is what continues to prompt consumers to get off the couch and part with what little discretionary income they have. And the operators that are able to leverage their equipment and supplies investment to help create that something special in the most effective and efficient manner possible are the ones that will continue to prosper.

The Polarization of the Dealer Community

Until now, seismic changes in the dealer community have been relegated to quiet, backroom conversations. Make no mistake, though, the way dealers align themselves and go about procuring equipment and supplies is undergoing a major shift. The formation of a new dealer buying group featuring six of the bigger names in equipment and supplies distribution set off a domino effect in the industry. The fallout from the formation of the first group led to the creation of a second buying organization. As a result, one dealer buying group is but a mere shell of its former self. And another group will almost certainly dissolve, which is why its remaining dealers reportedly are searching for a new organizational umbrella.

While many speculate as to what's driving these changes, one thing is for certain: The dealer community is polarizing. The emerging dealer landscape seems to align the really big dealers in two buying groups, leaving the smaller ones to form their own alliances. It's sort of like the television show "Survivor," with factions forming among competitors--except in this case the players are pooling their purchasing power to get the best deals on stainless steel and china. I expect there will be considerable movement within dealer groups in the months ahead, distracting them from the slow pace of the economic recovery.

H1N1 and Food-Safety Fundamentals

While it's hard to imagine something good coming from something as nasty as the H1N1 pandemic, that's actually the case for the foodservice industry. Foodservice professionals were reminded that there's no substitute for fundamentals of food-safety, notably proper hand washing and cleaning and sanitizing of all surfaces. As Handwashing for Life's Jim Mann points out on page seven, lessons learned from this pandemic have set a precedent for future foodservice professionals. "In fact, the spread of the virus has motivated industry professionals to develop better food safety policies, facility designs, and training programs," Mann says.
The past year was far from dull, but something tells me its events only set the table for an even more exciting 2010. Here's wishing you and your business a prosperous New Year!

The Foodservice Industry: A Solid Career Choice

It's no secret that many of the individual companies that comprise the foodservice equipment industry have struggled in finding individuals interested in pursuing a career in our corner of the world. And the many members of the Commercial Food Equipment Service Association are no exception.

Over the years, the service agencies that comprise our association have found it challenging to attract trained technicians to repair commercial cooking and refrigeration equipment. The simple fact of the matter is unless you grew up in this industry, it's highly unlikely that you dreamt of pursuing a career in it. That's why our members felt we needed to take action to broaden the appeal of employment in all aspects of the foodservice equipment industry, including service, sales, manufacturing, marketing, design and operations. More to the point, we realized in order for younger people, as well as those individuals interested in an alternate profession, to find us, we first had to find them during a time when they are exploring career options.

Parting Shot: If It Ain’t Broke

Why do we, in the convenience store community, keep trying to “fix” the foodservice industry as we integrate their concepts into our retail developments? We often look to the foodservice industry as a panacea filled with high margins and happy customers. The reality is far from that. The foodservice industry, like every other, has its own unique recipe for success and its own set of hurdles to overcome on the road to profitability.

Visibility Sells

When I walk into a foodservice operation, whether it's commercial or non-commercial, it never ceases to amaze me how much more I see poor displays and clutter than actual food. The reality is, presentation of food is just as important as the food when it comes to successful design and a successful operation.

When approaching a design for an operation, I try to work with the owner and the architect to make the food the primary objective. Not the decor, the food. The counters operators use for serving only act as vehicles to assist in merchandising the food. In convenience stores, for example, merchandising provides a nice sense of entertainment for customers waiting on an order. Keep in mind, though, we're human. We have powerful senses that drive us toward, and away from, objects. You must draw upon the critical senses of smell and taste, not just sight, in order to achieve good sales.

Hand-lettered signs, dishrags on countertops, junk on top of food shields, bad lighting or, worse, no lighting at all, can also create "visual pollution" that detracts foodservice operators form their main purpose of showcasing great food. By simplifying the décor, operators can put a greater emphasis on the food. Think of the old adage, "We eat with our eyes."

For example, in many of the food courts or other types of cafeterias I've been to, I see bulky food shields over the food, blocking the sight line and creating shadows. It's unappetizing to say the least. Today's market includes many better food shields, some of which utilize a thin vertical pole with just glass, and no frame. Rather than installing ones with chrome yellow or brass poles, hot red or any other colors, a more simple design draws the customer toward the real source of color on that table - the food. Food shields should be functional, but also have the ability to disappear into the counter.

At Bytes Café in Gateway Village in Charlotte, N.C., the horizontal glass on the food shields is three-fourths inches thick, allowing for a greater expanse between uprights. The vertical poles are also three-fourths inches in diameter, and powder-coated black so they tastefully extend into the black granite top. The shields blend so well into the surrounding equipment that one has to look for them to realize they are there. At that point, the food, not the equipment, becomes the source of color and the main focus of the customer's view.

Likewise, at Davidson College in Davidson, N.C., we used an over-the-counter breath protector with a powder-coated finish to match the color of the quartz top. The adjustable shields allow the operator to change the angle and height depending on that day's menu items. The one-inch thick vertical poles feature a glass protector and no metal overshelf. This allows for the color-corrected overhead lighting to merchandise the food properly in a setting that rivals natural sunlight.

Want another way to make the food "pop" before the customers' eyes? Using natural light achieves this effect best, as opposed to fluorescent lighting. "Office whites" as these bulbs are called, will actually make ham appear to be the color green, prompting the obvious question, "How old is this meat?" Instead, using lighting that is 3,500K in color will present food in the most natural way, as it is the one artificial light most similar to daylight. Remember, whatever lighting source you use, bulbs must be shielded to meet code.

That said, color, and the psychology of how it affects sales, should be at the forefront of operators' minds. Regardless of the theme, operators should refrain from using the color blue around food. Stop and think about this. When you use a color that is not a typical food color, it can be an indicator to the customer that, "something is wrong here!" Natural colors that reflect heat, such as reds, yellows, oranges and browns, can elevate customers' appetites and, hence, they will buy more. Save the blues, greens and cooler pastel colors for the dining room, where they create a soothing, calming atmosphere.

Do some research: Pay attention to the colors and lighting surrounding food, and how they become a pallet for the food itself. Next time you're in line at a pay-at-the-counter foodservice operation, see what kind of display merchandising and signage there is, if any. A designer or an operator focusing on these aspects of displaying food, and keeping them simple will not only make your main product stand out, it'll also pay off in customer satisfaction and increased sales.

Mind the Gap