While driving my daughter to one of her early-morning swim practices we went past a fast-casual restaurant chain our family used to regularly visit. When I mentioned to Annie that it had been a while since we had been there, she laughed and said, “That was the only place we could go where we all could find something we liked.”
With my children’s palates continuing to evolve, so too does the list of restaurants our family frequents. And now that their schedules are moving at a pace that far exceeds pre-pandemic levels, our family’s need for the convenience of food prepared outside the home has changed considerably. While this scenario may be unique to my family, the fact remains that, on a broader scale, it’s anything but. Families have been experiencing these types of transitions for generations.
Indeed, changing food preferences and life circumstances mean when and how consumers use restaurants continues to morph over time. Constant evolution of this nature gives the foodservice industry a dynamic unlike any other. That’s because at its core, the foodservice industry is all about serving people and people are anything but static beings.
When I ask people what keeps them so engaged in the foodservice industry, the most common refrain is the simple fact that no two days are the same.
While the industry continues to evolve, the fundamentals that make foodservice businesses successful remain the same. Take, for example, labor. Employees are what drive foodservice companies — or any business for that matter. They are the brand ambassadors for operators and members of the supply chain alike. Finding and retaining quality employees was a key ingredient to success before the pandemic, and nothing will ultimately change that.
Robotics remains a hot topic throughout the foodservice industry and with good reason. Operators continue to drive this conversation — but not because they seek to replace their current employees. Rather, they seek to make the most effective and efficient use of the labor they do have. And that comes when employees remain customer facing instead of facing the fryer or the dishwasher. That’s the approach taken by many operators across a variety of segments as they explore the benefits of robotics or other forms of automation.
A common misconception holds that operators will seek robotic solutions to reduce the number of employees they have to pay. That line of thinking is not only overly simplistic, it also overlooks the plain fact that labor challenges preceded the pandemic. That point was clearly illustrated earlier this year during an interview with Heather Buck, director of food and nutrition services for OhioHealth. Buck’s team had just installed a robotic kiosk to provide an automated jolt to its coffee program. When I asked her how many employees this approach would save, she said none. Like many operators, Buck reported it had been quite some time since the foodservice operation had been fully staffed. Rolling out a robotic coffee kiosk not only added a lot of output, it allowed the foodservice staff to remain patient focused.
So the more things change, one thing remains the same: Treat your people well and they will, in turn, do the same to your business and its customers.