While the pandemic certainly created a lot of challenges for the food service segment, many of which still exist, it also accelerated change and led to new more efficient solutions, according to a trio of industry executives.
Speaking on a panel during the inaugural Food Service Management (FSM) Summit last week, the executives weighed in on the impact of the pandemic and a number of current industry issues, including sustainability and supply chain bottlenecks. The panel, entitled “The Road Ahead: Challenges And Change In Foodservice,” was moderated by Michael Moore, vp, business development, Restaurantware—a Chicago-based, eco-friendly restaurant supply manufacturer and e-commerce company serving food-service professionals.
Damian Monticello, director, enterprise hospitality and event services, GuideWell—a Jacksonville, FL-based non-profit with a focus on health care—talked about some of current challenges related to staffing and how the companies has adapted its approach to food service.
“We’ve had to completely reinvent ourselves from an office where we would have 7,000 people on site on a normal day to right now operating with about 700. How do we incentivize our people to come into the office? Instead of being that spot we used to be in the past where people would have that impromptu meeting over lunch, we’re now positioning ourselves as the reason why they’d want to come to the office so they can have face-to-face interaction,” he said.
Monticello added, “for us to keep on that innovative path we need to find new ways of bringing our people together. So that’s the probably the biggest challenge I see.”
Meanwhile, Scott Valentine, director of procurement, Denver, CO-based SSA Group, LLC—which provides a host of services for zoos, museums, aquariums and other cultural attractions—acknowledged some of the obstacles with regards to getting product and how the changes now necessitate additional planning.
“I think we all understand that supply chain brings its own unique challenges. Really our biggest challenge now is we have to be thinking further out. Where before in January we were thinking about the summer, now we have to think in January for 18 months out and plan for ordering equipment and supplies. This has really provided an opportunity for us to grow our business by thinking ahead and bringing in new supplies that we need, but it’s also provided us with challenges that are hard to overcome sometimes,” he said.
Monticello also touched on some of the changes that have resulted from the past two years.
“I think for us one of the biggest things was the embracing of technology. The pandemic really showed us ‘it’s time to take action.’ We had to step forward, we had to get on board with mobile ordering. We had to get on board with just-in-time ordering from suppliers and things that other segments of the food service industry have been doing for a while. Really what came out of it in the end was a better program for our customers and end users,” he said.
Monticello further emphasized a strategic change of direction that has led to increased efficiency.
“We switched our dynamic from people coming into the corporate café and browsing around and picking what they wanted to now making that decision ahead of time and ordering ahead of time. Our resource providers didn’t have to produce anything until that order comes in so they’re not trying to guess, not trying to forecast how many portions they need of a certain dish. We’re treating ourselves more like a traditional restaurant and less like a café so we can provide a fresher, better quality product with less labor, less staff, less ingredients…It is a better end result for all involved,” he said.
Monalisa Prasad, national director of sustainability, Rye Brook, NY-based Chartwells Higher Education—which provides on-campus dining for universities and colleges throughout the U.S.—noted the pandemic brought to light some things that were lacking as well.
“No one ever thought we’d be shut down for a year. Literally all of our accounts were shut down and what do we do? I remember going back to that meeting with an account and saying ‘we need to account for emergency preparedness and how do we make it resilient?’ Maybe it’s not COVID again, but there will be something that will come at us and how do we face that,” she said.
Valentine pointed out one of the big changes was related to company culture.
“I would say the thing that we probably did that really helped us the most was we really focused more on our culture. We really did things to advertise it and get people pumped up about it. It’s drawn in more clients and drawn more employees,” he said.
Valentine noted the company was forced to layoff more than 5,000 employees, but has been successful in bringing many back and bring new people in and that “came about because of our culture.”
The importance of sustainability—particularly when it comes to Generation Z and the customer of tomorrow—was another point of emphasis during the panel.
“Gen Z is all about sustainability. Everyone has their perspective, if somebody asked me ‘hey what does sustainability mean to you?’ I wouldn’t be able to define it, but I think we’re at the point where we have to take that next step and say ‘ok, this is what we’re doing.’ It’s about going forward and not stepping back again,” she noted.
Monticello emphasized the point.
“That sustainability piece has become so omnipresent within our segment of the industry, we’re looking at it from all perspectives. No longer is it just about recyclable or compostable, it’s about how things are coming in through the door. How much plastic is involved in the orders we’re receiving? How much plastic is involved in the equipment that we’re purchasing? So we’re having to really push those steps to make sure we’re staying in front of what our employees expect out of us as a socially responsible company,” he said.