Over the past year or so, two terms have dominated the foodservice industry’s lexicon: pivot and flexibility. Unless you’ve been living on a desert island, I don’t think this requires any further explanation.
In the midst of all this pivoting and flexibility, though, two other elements of any successful foodservice business continue to get overlooked. I am talking about hospitality and structure. Trying to slow the spread of COVID-19 often meant cutting out or severely restricting human interaction. This made the foodservice industry very transactional through the greater use of technology, drive-thru service, etc. While all of this was and remains relevant, it’s equally important to note that operators can’t confidently pivot or become more flexible unless they have the sound business structure to successfully take such steps.
At its core, hospitality is anticipating the needs of others. That’s what Greg Gorgone, chief operating officer and co-founder of the Pineapple Academy, told attendees at the Association for Healthcare Foodservice’s 2021 conference. And he’s right.
Given the twists and turns of the past year, though, it became easy to lose sight of this as our frustrations about the changing operating environment mounted. To help navigate some of this uncertainty, Gorgone offered AHF members some simple and very practical advice that really applies to all segments of the foodservice industry. “You have to take a moment and remind yourself why you are here: to anticipate the needs of others and fulfill that to the best of your abilities.”
It all starts with the menu, Gorgone added. “Everything trickles from that. It’s all about that experience with the food. I want people to feel welcome and included.” Making people feel welcome and included is a hallmark of the foodservice industry, and for some operators living up to that premise has proven even more difficult throughout the pandemic. Take, for example, corporate dining operations. In an industry already rife with acronyms, these operators had to incorporate two more into their vocabulary: WFH (work from home) and RTO (return to office), the latter of which became TBD (to be determined) during the summer surge caused by the delta variant. One consistent theme that emerged for this sector, though, was the simple fact that many large employers still see foodservice playing an integral role in welcoming people back to work and making them feel safe and included.
Doing so, however, will likely result in necessary changes to menus, style of service and more. Indeed, operators across all segments continue to grapple with product shortages, higher prices, labor challenges and more. Altering the menu represents one way to combat these challenges. The bigger question becomes when the menu changes, will the back of the house have to adapt? The answer is it depends. It depends on the nature and scope of the changes. It depends on the current state of the kitchen. It depends.
Gorgone has some sage advice here, too. “Build that kitchen so it flows the way we want and the experience for the employee is the right one. You want to make sure staff is equipped to anticipate the needs of others. That will flow into the dining room.”
At the end of the day, it’s that structure that gives the staff the confidence and the ability to pivot and become more flexible as they serve the needs of others.