E&S Extra

Editorial Director Joe Carbonara provides insights and commentary on the state of the foodservice equipment and supplies marketplace.


4 Foodservice Questions

Seems there are more questions than answers in today’s foodservice industry. But today we try to knock four questions off that list.

1. How has the supply chain fared during the pandemic?

Much has been made about the plight of foodservice operators over the course of the pandemic, and rightfully so. But when operators suffer so, too, do members of their supply chain. And its 2021 State of the Restaurant Industry Study, the National Restaurant Association helped quantify some of the pain felt by the supply chain.

To nobody’s surprise, 85% of supply chain businesses reported lower revenues in 2020 compared to 2019, per the NRA. On average, revenues among individual members of the supply chain declined 30% in 2020. In addition, 70% of suppliers told the NRA they laid off or furloughed employees and one-third say their staffing levels are down 20% from their usual levels. And 15% of the suppliers surveyed say they will not last 6 months into 2021 without some form of government relief.

2. How have c-stores adapted their approach to serving food and customers during the pandemic?

Self-serve was a staple of c-store foodservice prior to the pandemic. Due to the various restrictions operators now face, though, self-service is not as viable an option as it once was. As a result, c-stores continue to dedicate more labor to foodservice. For example, in 2020 55% of c-stores said they have dedicated employees for their foodservice operations, up 25% from just 2 years earlier, according to data from consulting firm foodserviceIP. And these operators use a variety of means to source their menu items. Along those lines, 36% receive their food from commissary kitchens – both third-party and company-owned units. Also, 19% they get food from c-store distributors and 14% get food from broadline distributors.

Interestingly, an increased number of consumers working at home has only slightly impacted when they use c-store foodservice. Consumers report a 3% increase in using c-store foodservice for lunch since the start of COVID-19, per foodserviceIP. Conversely, consumers report a 3% decline in afternoon snack occasions. Late morning snack-related visits increased by 2%, too.

3. Does tableside ordering have a place in fast-food restaurants?

If you ask Pollo Campero, the answer is yes. The Guatemala-based restaurant chain piloted digital tableside ordering in 2020 and decided to roll it out to most of its U.S. locations. To use the new service, guests simply scan their table’s QR code to view the menu. Then, they place their order online and select “dine-in” at checkout, entering their table letter to have a team member deliver their food to the table.

“The pandemic pushed us to reimagine our guests’ dine-in experience, and technology like paperless QR menus proved to be the way around a lot of concerns,” says Luis Javier Rodas Campero, the chain’s managing director in the U.S. and chief operating officer. “Our new contactless ordering service takes it a step further as the trend continues toward more tech in restaurant dining.”

In addition to the digital table service launch, Pollo Campero plans to open 10 new digital kitchens in 2021 after launching its first two in San Francisco and Chicago in late 2020. These locations are just one part of the overall development strategy for Pollo Campero in the new year.

And this item leads me to the last question on my mind:

4. What do you want your business to look like post-pandemic?

If you are anything like me, you have spent some wistful evenings dreaming about what post-pandemic life will look like for you and your family. Maybe your post-pandemic vision includes rescheduling a trip that cancelled during the past year or even reconnecting with family and friends to celebrate a few milestones. My post-pandemic vision includes both of those scenarios as well as a trip to Wrigley Field to catch a Cubs game. But have you gone through the same exercise for your foodservice-related business? If so, great. If not, now’s the time.

For months, just about every member of the foodservice industry has been in triage mode, looking for ways to stop the bleeding to stabilize their organizations. Add plexiglass. Check. Streamline menu and product offerings. Check. More video meetings instead of in-person meetings? Check. Everyone did what they had to do. While it is completely understandable, the time has come to start casting one’s vision farther into the future.

What do you want your customers’ experiences to be like once businesses open on a more consistent basis? In what ways will you differentiate your business from the competition moving forward. If you are still in business as you read this, that is a good start. But simply doing what everyone else is doing will no longer be enough. Restaurant consultant Matthew Mabel developed a list of four questions business leaders should ask as they prepare for what comes next. While he targeted the list to restaurant operators, after reading this it seems to me that anyone related to the foodservice industry will benefit from Matthew’s wisdom.

No doubt most people reading this have COVID-19 fatigue and likely feel they have changed and adapted enough. All valid points. But now’s not the time when successful companies stop. The finish line is coming into focus so do your best to finish strong.