Jeff Rice, Rapids Foodservice Contract & Design
Unlike many equipment dealers, Jeff Rice got into the business later in life. After a decade delivering beer, he was approached by longtime friend and owner of Rapids Wholesale, Joe Schmitt.
“Out of the blue, Joe asked me if I knew anyone in the area interested in a sales position at the company,” says Rice. “I was 46 years old at the time, and my current job was hard on my back and knees. I told him I’d give it a try, but I knew nothing about foodservice.”
Rice immersed himself in the industry through manufacturer training visits, reps who visited the office, The NAFEM Show and The Restaurant Show — all were critical to his education, he says. Rice’s client base includes hospitals, retirement communities, K-12 schools and colleges.
Q: What are a few attributes all foodservice designs share?
A: The goal is to make things as efficient as possible and provide a good workflow for the end user. Also, we strive to keep costs down as much as we can. As far as the design, I would say it’s definitely a team effort. Christy Hodnefield, our director of design, and I have been working together for such a long time that we know what each other is thinking and what may work in a particular design.
Q: What goes into identifying the proper equipment package for a specific project?
A: We’ll sit down with the end user/customer and ask for menus and get the basics, like how many meals will be served each day. The goal is to figure out the hood space needed. Exhaust hoods are usually the kitchen’s biggest investment. If we can spec equipment that handles multiple tasks, it shortens the hood, which minimizes the investment and maximizes efficiency. It’s important to do your homework.
Q: How has technology, meaning apps, kiosks and the like, impacted the way you design certain projects?
A: The new technology of self-service kiosks and ordering apps is getting more popular by the day. It really has not impacted much on the design side for my projects yet. I can see a need for this technology with the current COVID-19 status. It makes it easier for people to support their favorite local restaurants.
Q: How do you think COVID-19 will affect designs moving forward?
A: Going forward, and I hate to say the new norm, but I think staff could be cut down a bit. If you can only have so many tables, you won’t need as much staff. Hopefully they can increase carryout and pickup orders to make up for traditional dining in business.
Q: When something does not go right on a project, say a piece of equipment shows up late or on wheels when it should have legs, what’s the best way to address the situation?
A: Our project coordinators do a good job with that. Freight and logistics always are huge hurdles. It was bad before COVID-19 and seems to be worse now. If something comes in damaged, our project coordinators stay on top of things. They’ll ship it back to the manufacturer the same day if possible, so we can still make our deadlines. I make sure to inform clients up front what’s going on. We’ll replace or fix a unit or offer them a discount if it’s a small ding or minimal damage.
Q: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned?
A: I’ve always been a good listener, but it’s important to listen and be patient. If the customer is not happy, listen to everything they’re saying and have empathy. Always think before you speak.