Regardless of their origins, disruptive forces share one common trait: they come into an industry with little to no notice, do their thing and change the course of business as usual forever.
Such was the case for the foodservice industry in mid-March. That’s when COVID-19 really began to wreak havoc on the country. Panic ensued. The stock market crashed. Schools closed. Politicians scrambled to figure out the best way to limit the spread of this highly communicable virus, but this public health crisis marched onward without a conscience.
All of this created a palpable level of uncertainty the foodservice industry had not experienced since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Even more cruel is the fact that so many restaurants and bars remain closed as I write this. At least after 9/11 we could gather at our favorite watering hole or bring friends and family together around the table at a local restaurant to commiserate and help break up the gray clouds hanging over our heads. This time, though, those social opportunities are rightfully off the table in the name of social distancing.
Response from the operator community was as varied as the segments that make up this industry. In an industry where hospitality remains a key ingredient of most any operator’s success, many restaurants adopted a contactless approach to serving customers. For on-premises transactions, that means staff place food orders in predetermined locations instead of handing the food to guests. In a delivery scenario, going contactless means when drivers deliver customers’ food orders, they will leave it at the front door or at a different mutually agreed upon area. This prevents the driver and customer from interacting.
It wasn’t just commercial operators that were forced to innovate. Noncommercial operators had to adapt, too. Take public schools, for example. Far too many children across the country rely on their schools for at least two meals a day during the academic year. Many of these operators had to pivot from serving students breakfast and lunch on-premises to preparing two to three nutritious meals the children could consume at home.
All of this is not to say the future is not bright for the foodservice industry. Quite the contrary.
This industry will bounce back, as it always does. And when the pall from COVID-19 dissipates, we’re all going to want and need to come together both as an industry and in our communities.
That’s because the foodservice industry is as much about the people as it is the product. For optimism about the future, look no further than FE&S’ 2020 Top Achiever Award recipients. These five foodservice professionals continue to innovate as they strive to provide value and do so in such a way that shows a keen ability to adapt to the rapid pace of change that defines the industry today.
The same applies to Harry Schildkraut of S2O Consultants, the recipient of FE&S’ 2020 Hall of Fame Award. In a world full of hyperbole, Harry’s direct but honest approach earns high regard from his operator customers, supply chain partners and colleagues alike. Harry’s been a mentor to many, offering advice and counsel without expecting anything in return. With Harry, your success is his.
Unprecedented events like the coronvirus pandemic may force the foodservice industry to bend. But the industry will never break thanks to the many thoughtful and innovative people that have made foodservice their career.