Managing a Successful Transition in Foodservice

When finding a trend that seems right for a specific foodservice operation, ensuring a smooth transition into the business represents a critical success factor.

John-GiambarresiJohn Giambarresi President - Owner, Creative Dining Solutions, Wakefield, Mass.Trends and fads. Every business has to deal with and know the difference between the two. Being able to tell a trend from a fad can impact a foodservice operation’s ability to be successful over the long term. So what’s the difference between a trend and a fad? A trend represents a business development with staying power — something that can affect your operation for years or even decades. Fads, in contrast, tend to have much shorter lifespans.

Examples of trends in foodservice include greater use of locally sourced ingredients, more seasonal menus and the like. A key trend for healthcare foodservice is transitioning patient feeding to room service.

As an industry we are drawn to trends for a few reasons. First, let’s face it: most people are drawn to shiny and new things. That’s exactly what trends tend to be — shiny and new. But not every trend is right for every operation. Temper the desire to remain cutting edge with a realistic view of the foodservice operation’s goals.

When finding a trend that seems right for a specific foodservice operation, ensuring a smooth transition into the business represents a critical success factor. Over the years, I have helped a number of healthcare foodservice operators update their programming and here are a few key steps that I recommend taking.

First and foremost, can the operation successfully implement the new service or practice? Be honest and frank about your concerns and identify any potential limitations that would impede a successful implementation. Be able to articulate to the decision makers why you feel making such a transition will benefit the business and be candid when identifying possible limiting factors. Be thorough in your assessment and do not underestimate the resources necessary. Be above board in your discussions, and back up your statements with data, statistics and examples.

Determine your direction and scope. List your objectives and base your direction on the above listed factors. Where do you want to be at the end of the process? If a senior living facility wants to implement more formal, white tablecloth service, how will that impact the operation? Assess whether the facility has adequate staffing levels and if the dining room is big enough to accommodate such service. Does the kitchen have the right equipment package to support this type of cooking? What other areas of the business will such a transition affect? What is the timeline for implementation? Reach out to others and see how their transition process progressed and develop an attainable goal based on real results.

Identify every aspect necessary to facilitate change needed to reach your destination. The most successful transitions I have been involved with have started with an attainable goal, clearly stated deliverables, and a realistic time frame.

Next, I suggest planning backward. Begin this process by clearly stating every goal of the transition, and then determine the best plan to get there. Look for every possible pitfall or roadblock. Determine what can happen, what may happen, and what is sure to happen, and then develop a proactive plan for each scenario.

When you feel you have everything under control, plan some more. I have seen many cases where this final review identifies previously unidentified roadblocks and concerns. Being proactive always trumps being reactive.

Reach out to professionals that specialize in this area. There’s no substitute for leveraging experiential knowledge. True professionals want to share what they have learned with others planning to go through a similar process. This can take the form of an informal question-and-answer session or a contractual agreement for services. Ask the questions. If the response is vague, clarify your question.

Involve your team. Senior leadership will provide direction; you will develop the plan, engage the affected team members in the plan development and they will have ownership and help establish a direction that will work. Solicit input from your peers that have successfully implemented the change; find out what their challenges were and who they used as go-to resources.

Listen and document everything you find out about the project and keep all information at the ready. You need to become the expert. Unless you are born with the ability to be an expert without having experience and exposure, you must endeavor to become that expert to benefit your business and yourself.

Develop a plan that is attainable based on your determining factors. Make sure any other people or departments needed to ensure success are 100 percent on board. Develop a project charter that clearly delineates responsibility, tasks and timelines. This becomes an invaluable tool due to its ability to eliminate confusion throughout the process. Use this charter to develop Gantt charts, project progress monitors, detailed task lists, flow charts and process updates that can be developed.

Do not overreach with your abilities or resources. Budget adequate resources and make sure they will be available through the process. By knowing your business and the specifics of your transition, compartmentalization of various aspects of transition and how they can each be affected by removal of resources, you will position yourself to react if the level of resources change midstream.

A good example is hospital room service. It is such a great concept that by my estimate more than 50 percent of hospitals in the U.S. currently use some form of this method of service. While room service is widely accepted, the actual implementation is all over the board. Resource limitations placed on the transition are most likely the reason for this variety of offerings. However, when resources available are reduced in process, the result is often less than desired. I have seen labor cuts mandated mid-process, jeopardizing the goal, and the affected department meekly accepting the change. By having the information above, you can speak to the cause and effect that any resource reduction will have on the process. Naturally, a mandate from above cannot be ignored, but educating above with the effect caused by the reduction is also necessary.

There are many different transitions that are possible in the foodservice world, from simple menu changes to complete makeovers of service method or physical plant. In the institutional world, the lines between retail and patient/resident services are becoming blurred. Each has specific requirements, but by realizing the needs of one group, any transition can benefit all.

Each transition has its own complications. Determining the direction and scope of need is the challenge: What equipment is necessary? What do the regulatory agencies require? What construction and architectural support is necessary? What are the demographics of your customers? What is the skill level of your employees? Do I need to engage a professional to assist with the process? Can I make this transition successful with the level of resources I have available? What are the limiting factors that any of the above will have on the project? It is only with great advance preparation that you can envision and reach the end goal.

There is no need to fear change. Our industry is evolving and as a result we continue to reach never-before-imagined heights. As the expectations of the public change, our business needs to evolve to keep pace and continue to offer cutting edge food and service as well as a great dining experience.

There is no need to fear change. Our industry is evolving and as a result we continue to reach never-before-imagined heights.

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