Foodservice Consultants Face Challenges Working in Remote Locations

While many foodservice design consultants work on projects based in or near large urban areas, countless others work with operators that serve remote areas of the country, from the farm-heavy Midwest to small, Southern towns on the Gulf coast, even throughout Alaska. So working on remote foodservice design projects has become pretty standard today. Still, this approach does not come without a few considerations that the customer and designer need to consider.

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Tim AgostiTim AgostiWe caught up with Tim Agosti, FCSI, principal of Arctic Food Service Design, LLC in Anchorage and an Alaska native and consultant to many schools, healthcare facilities business and industry (B&I) accounts and independent restaurants throughout the state. For those in similar areas or urbanites finding work outside of their busy realms, here are project management considerations to weigh.

Travel Expenses and Schedules

With airfare continuing to rise across the board, travel to more remote locations consequently becomes even pricier than before. In Alaska, flights from Anchorage to Juno or Fairbanks, for instance, can cost double or triple the amount of an average U.S. mainland trip, and flight times are generally limited throughout the day. Flights to smaller villages or further up north can be even more dicey. Agosti finds that by loading up his itinerary per trip, and/or scheduling multiple client visits in one area over the course of a few days, he can get the most out of his — and the client's — money. Think of it as bulk scheduling. One trip might include an initial consultation, followed by multiple interviews with cook staff, maintenance personnel and others, site and inventory inspections, logistics design, and other short-term and long-term planning combined.

"Most of my communication with clients is through email, but as a consultant, there is nothing like visiting a client face to face out at their facility," says Agosti, who travels every other month to see clients. Outside of that, Agosti handles follow-up questions in the most effective way possible — sending a complete list of questions in one email, and then discussing the answers over the phone.

Transportation costs don't just run high for Agosti — they challenge his clients as well. Shipping equipment or other project-related materials to Alaska costs exponentially more than shipping to other states, and weather introduces other challenges in the northernmost areas of the state.

Agosti's first choice is to work with one of the few dealerships in the state, but outside of that, he'll look to companies based in Seattle and Washington to cut down on shipping costs and times.

"Getting the product from the manufacturer to Seattle is just the first leg of the shipment," Agosti says. "But going to Alaska, the freight forwarder in Seattle will take the shipment to Anchorage. If the final destination is on the road system the freight company will drive the shipment to the closest hub, but if not, air freight will be necessary, and that costs quite a bit more."

To combat these prices, many dealers will combine shipments as much as possible, and dealerships in Alaska are known to have larger inventories, especially during the summer months when heavier tourism and equipment use can lead to more breakdowns and replacement needs.

Equipment and Storage

School districts in remote areas of the state will also combine their shipments into larger orders to cut down on costs, Agosti says. Orders for both food and equipment in some cases can have long lead times, as long as eight weeks to six months. During the winter, when the northern and coastal parts of the state and ocean freeze over, barges cannot get through and many shipments are at a standstill. Some of the most remote locations have only a six-month window to receive shipments during the year.

As a result, foodservice operators in these remote locations need two very important things: durable, reliable equipment that won't break down and plenty of cold and dry storage space. In fact, bulk orders run as large as 40 cases of canned fruit or vegetables at once. "Airlines charge by rates so these clients look to order as much as they can all at once," Agosti says. "I have seen orders as much as 50,000 pounds of goods on one 20- or 45-foot truck."

Some schools opt to order all of their paper products, canned goods and frozen food in one huge shipment each year. At the same time, the school might not have the space for more than one freezer, so Agosti will design two separate freezer-refrigeration systems. In the event of a breakdown, the school can transfer as much product as possible to the second unit because it can operate as either a cooler or a freezer. This alleviates some of the pressure as the school waits for a technician or replacement part.

While many of these schools order foods in bulk, they supplement with some local food, mainly seafood and salmon, of course, as well as fruits and vegetables grown in central parts of the state during the warmer months.

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