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.
Last month Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke made global headlines when he told The Brookings Institution that the recession is "very likely over." If the recession is, in fact, over, what does that mean for the foodservice industry?
In the short term, this ray of economic hope probably does not mean much to the foodservice industry. Foodservice operators' equipment and supplies budgets are expected to decrease by 2.8 percent, on average, in 2010 according to FE&S' annual Forecast Study. In contrast, 39 percent of the operators surveyed anticipate an increase in their food and beverage expenditures, while 45 percent anticipate this budget item will remain flat. Overall, we project that foodservice equipment and supplies sales for 2010 will remain flat when compared to this year.
One of the (many) unfortunate aspects of downward business spirals is that they never call ahead to let anyone know they are coming. Once the tumultuous periods come to an end, nobody announces that the business environment has stabilized. Such is the situation for today’s foodservice industry.
Has the foodservice industry reach the bottom of this economic free fall? If so, there's nowhere to go but up.
“What is your common purpose?” That was a question posed by the Disney Institute’s Scott Milligan during a presentation at Technomic’s 2009 Trends and Directions Conference. While Milligan asked this of the record number of foodservice operators and other industry professionals in attendance, it is really a question that any member of the industry needs to be able to answer to help ensure long-term success.
In light of the much ballyhooed economic challenges the world faces today, many clever marketers have decided to play the panic card when trying to peddle their products and services. And why shouldn’t they? Throughout last year’s political campaigns both parties did an exemplary job of trying to scare us into not voting for the other candidate. As a result of this trend, a new phrase of sorts has taken root in the marketing lexicon of the day.
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.
The way the foodservice industry presents itself, both to prospective employees and customers, needs to evolve as it struggles to fill a growing number of jobs and meet patrons’ ever-changing demands.
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.
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.