Crossing The Wires

Foodservice operators across the channels put theory of parallels to test

Abbie Westra, Director, Editorial, CSP

SCHAUMBURG, Ill. -- The opening session of this year's Foodservice at Retail Expo (FARE) defined the purpose of the show: to bring different channels of foodservice together to learn from one another. "Theory of Parallels: A Channel Panel Discussion" explored the idea that if something works well in one business or industry, it just might succeed in another.

Panelists joining moderator Ira Blumenthal on the stage represented three unique foodservice channels included Dave Prentkowski, executive director of foodservice for The University of Notre Dame; Brian Krockey, director [image-nocss] of foodservice for Brookfield Zoo; and Bruce Taffet, former executive vice president of United Artists.

Panelists discussed the successes and challenges of their operations and how they fit into the greater foodservice landscape. Prentkowski explained that "there really is no such thing as college foodservice," listing off the various venues for which he provides food, from traditional cafeterias to grab-and-go and quick-serve spots, special events to sports venues. Each venue must be defined as either a convenience or a destination, and one must deliver the traits of each (location, portability, speed and value for the former; variety, quality and ambiance for the latter) to build a successful operation.

Branding was stressed by all the panelists as vital to expanding business and creating repeat customers. Branding, said Krockey, must be carried out through your employees, who deliver the message to the customer through strong service. For the Brookfield Zoo, the brand stands for sustainability and environmental stewardship. How do you get your employees to deliver the right message? Make them happy, said Krockey. "Employee satisfaction equals customer satisfaction."

Taffet concurred, saying that the entertainment of the cinema industry goes beyond what's on the screen. It should be carried out from the cashier to the ticket-taker to the concession stand.

Menu and concept branding are also keys to creating your foodservice identity. Notre Dame houses a variety of branded foodservice concepts unique to the school that stand beside national names like Subway. Krockey at the Brookfield Zoo works with vendors such as Hispanic food manufacturer La Preferida to create branded menu items.

Labor is a constant battle for all the panelists, particularly as consumers demand fresher and more varied items at the same time as speed and efficiency. At Notre Dame, all foods come from a central commissary, though many foods are finished to order in front of the customer for the "perception of cooking to order," said Prentkowski.

Taffet believes that while many movie theater companies are trying out expanded food menus--from breakfast pastries to crab cakestraining your workforce to produce such items is a difficult hurdle to pass. Popcorn, candy and soda, he said, are still their main profit centers, and that will never change.[Pictured (left toright): Ira Blumenthal, Dave Prentkowski, Brian Krocky and Bruce Taffet.]

Abbie Westra, CSP/Winsight By Abbie Westra, Director, Editorial, CSP
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