2007 Portability Study: Portability on the menu

Portability continues to be a big part of most foodservice operators’ business, according to the 2007 FoodService Director Study on Portability.

On the noncommercial side, portability appears to have its strongest hold in corporate dining. Every B&I operator in the FSD survey indicated that they offer portable items. What’s more, these operators said that, on average, take-away business accounts for more than 30% of their overall revenue—more than six percentage points higher than the survey average of 24%.

“I think time constraints have a lot to do with the increase,” says Damian Monticello, foodservice liaison for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida, in Tallahassee. “Our customers don’t have a lot of time to eat. They are taking food back to their desks so they can continue working, and we try to accommodate them in any way we can.”

But portability is a major component in most segments of the industry, with the exception of long-term care. More than 90% of colleges, 81% of hospitals and 54% of schools offer take-away items, while only 22% of long-term care facilities do. It also accounts for roughly one-quarter of the revenue stream, with hospitals reporting 25%, colleges 24% and schools crediting 23% of their revenue from take-away.

Portable business is a relatively labor-efficient form of service, according to the survey, with respondents indicating that they dedicate about two workers on average to handle this aspect of their operations.

Space is a major driver of portability, operators say. Offering foods that are more easily carried allows operators to design smaller footprints and to install foodservice outlets in spaces not usually considered for retail service. At Gannon University, in Erie, Pa., Metz & Associates designed a space called InterMetzo in the Palumbo Academic Building that serves a variety of items from entrées and soups to sandwiches and salads.

General manager Pete Mannarelli says the space has absorbed some of the overflow from a nearby popular dining hall, and has been so successful that the design is being considered for use in other settings, such as hospitals or corporations.

Sometimes, portability can improve business in a facility. Such was the case at the University of Southern Mississippi, where a full-service restaurant called The Power House was converted to a fast-casual concept. With a menu that relies heavily on sandwiches, salads and soups, check averages are down by an average of $2, but customer counts are up by 15%, according to Pat Foley, executive director of dining services for Aramark at the 15,000-student university.

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Ideas and Innovation
coal creek student salad bar

When I was visiting Minneapolis Public Schools, I saw that they have these cool signs on top of their salad bars. As soon as we got back, we re-created them. They are big and branded, and have the portion requirements. They say “Taste something new today” on one side, and we support our local farmers on the other. They help the bars look fresh and delish, and attract students’ eyes.

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