E&S Extra

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


Future-Proofing Foodservice

After more than two years where chaos was the norm, everyone in the foodservice industry seems ready to go back to a more stable approach to serving consumers, concept development and yes, even the terms and timing that pertain to the buying and selling of equipment and supply items.

Joe Carbonara editor hsWhile there’s not enough space here, or even on the internet for that matter, to address the industry’s supply chain issues, the idea of future-proofing foodservice operations remains a topic worth exploring.

In fact, Mike Lee, co-founder and CEO of Alpha Food Labs, offered some very well-honed insights on this very complicated subject as a keynote speaker at the FCSI-The Americas conference, which took place during April in Montreal. Lee viewed most everything through the eyes of the consumer, which is how these things should go but is not always the case. 

The good news is that despite a tumultuous two years, restaurants and various forms of foodservice remain appealing to consumers. “We still go to restaurants because food is emotional. You want to be in the room to feel the warmth and hear the noise,” Lee said.

When planning not only for the return of guests to foodservice operations but also the future of these establishments, it remains relevant to understand what comprised the consumer experience of late. During the past two-plus years “everyone went to cooking school in some form and their food IQ gained 10 points,” Lee said. “What is going to happen when customers visit a restaurant? We have a more informed customer due to COVID.”

As a result, Lee rightly points out that the process has become the product. “To future-proof yourself as a restaurant, you can’t rely on one service or revenue flow,” Lee said. The winning recipe will feature a carefully cultivated combination of service, product and ability to serve off-premises customers.

Because as much as the industry likes to put structure around the flow of food from farm to fork, the reality remains it’s not an exact science. “Food is a confluence of logic and emotion,” Lee said. “It flows logically but it can be blown up because someone does not like cilantro.”

For operators and designers looking to innovate in an effort to keep their businesses relevant in the eyes of their customers, Lee offered sage advice on where to look for inspiration and more. “The breakthrough stuff of the future is always on the edges. If you are focusing on the center of the bell curve, you are too late,” Lee said. “The interesting stuff happens on the fringes.”

When it comes to foodservice, the three most important attributes are comfort, trust and access, Lee said. The exact definitions of each attribute will vary greatly by customer and operation type. Take, for example, corporate feeding programs. As Rob Gebhardt, vice president of JLL Work Dynamics and president of the Society for Hospitality and Foodservice Management points out (page 72), time will tell what the future has in store for this segment as operators continue to formulate their vision.

Of course, as most foodservice designers (page 32) know, having a vision is no longer enough. Operators and project teams must remain flexible and continue to refine their outlook if they want to future-proof their operations.