written by Chuck Schuler
Like many industries, the last few years have been difficult for contract foodservice operators and clients alike. The foodservice industry has been confronted with navigating historic food inflation, ongoing labor shortages, and the reality that the new hybrid work model appears to be here to stay. Both foodservice companies and their corporate clients are in search of solutions that provide a superior service experience to employees while managing increasing costs that impact the client’s bottom line.
Transparency, Flexibility, Communication
Unfortunately, this new normal risks creating questions or doubts between a client and their foodservice partner. Now more than ever, it is critical for operators to focus on transparency, flexibility, and communication with the client. Educating clients on today’s challenges for operations and subsequent solutions is a key step toward aligning both operator and client in the direction of a successful foodservice program.
Operators who fail to address and educate clients find their relationships may be negatively impacted, with any progress in forming future solutions stalled. Without proper communication, clients are surprised when they receive a monthly statement and realize the costs for providing food services to their employees have, in some cases, doubled from pre-pandemic levels.
They may not have a full understanding of the underlying issues that impact their operator’s performance and the increase in financial cost. Timely, comprehensive reporting and a strategic plan to address the new operating environment can remove doubt or end any potential situation of a client being left marveling over why their costs have increased so dramatically.
The reality is that clients and operators are doing their best to anticipate or gain clarity on their return-to-work agendas and what the impact will be for future onsite populations. Clients are constantly in flux regarding their return-to-work policies, and operators need to be flexible and pivot to accommodate these continual changes.
Employees report that they experience many benefits when working remotely. As a result, it appears that remote work will continue to play a greater role in the workspace landscape, with many employees potentially working from home at least two days a week. Conversely, it is suggested that companies with food and beverage amenities generally return a higher workplace satisfaction rate, so employers are working hard to create an amenity-rich environment to entice the employee to return to the office.
Consequently, this dissuades clients and operators from offsetting increased costs with value waning actions such as increasing prices, reducing hours of operations, and reducing staffing. Searching for balance while protecting the client’s spend is dictating the future foodservice amenities landscape.
Appropriately, foodservice companies have focused on reimagining the foodservice experience and accelerating the use of technology tools and data analytics to offset the costs of delivering expected amenities. Operators are proposing solutions with goals to optimize the customer experience while decreasing costs for clients.
Strategies being recommended to both promote return-to-work and mitigate costs include:
- increased focus on destination foodservices like specialty coffee shops in co-working and flex spaces;
- streamlined operations with limited staffing, leveraging grab-n-go options and ready to heat meals;
- special “pop-up” events on slower “in office” days;
- cashless self-check-out at corporate café. This does not eliminate cashier support altogether; however, it does reduce the cashier function to a support versus functional role.
- unattended retail with “Just Walk Out” technology provides guests a completely frictionless mobile experience with no in-person staffing necessary and offers flexibility in product placement and rotation.
- digital ordering using personal mobile devices for delivery enhancements such as robotics, food lockers, and app-based delivery options. Emergent technologies are becoming ever-present at an accelerated pace.
- digital cafés (some call it ghost kitchens) promote flexibility for operators to scale services for their client’s hybrid staffing model, while eliminating the need for front-of-house staff. Digital kitchens can expand offerings while offering efficient production and waste reduction.
These strategies have been introduced to the corporate dining workplace at a rapid pace and are new to many clients. Therefore, operators must provide the resources to educate clients on the positive impact they yield. There are many fundamental approaches that can be considered when redefining a company’s foodservice amenities program.
However, winning programs descend from education and effective communication. Effective communication between operators and clients mitigates surprises and promotes collaboration, a win-win result for clients and operators. Clients and operators must work together cohesively to innovate a program that achieves mutual goals.
Chuck Schuler is project manager, Management Advisory Services, Cini-Little International, Inc.