2008 Portability Study: Portability rules

Seventy-five percent of operators are looking to grow their grab-and-go business.

Portability, or grab and go, is on the rise, with many customers choosing to take away nontraditional to-go items, like made-to-order dishes, according to FoodService Director's 2008 Portability Study. The study shows that almost nothing is off-limits these days when it comes to grab and go, but operators are still struggling with packaging issues.

At the University of Missouri in Columbia, Campus Dining offers take-out locations in six residential units, including a new facility called Baja Grill. Julaine Kiehn, director of Campus Dining at the 30,000-student university, says demand for takeout has been increasing steadily during the past seven or eight years, and the department has responded.

“There are seats for students to eat at the location, but everything is wrapped for takeout,” explains Kiehn. Operators like Kiehn, answering customer demand, pushed up the numbers in FSD’s 2008 Portability Study. Of the operators surveyed this year, 75% said they offer portable menu items, up markedly from 62% last year. B&I operators led the way again, with every operator polled saying portable foods were offered in their locations. Ninety-one percent of hospitals offer portable foods, as do 87% of colleges and universities and 66% of schools.

The numbers aren’t surprising in today’s fast-paced world, but they are paradoxical. Even though more customers than ever are looking for foods made-to-order, a significant number of them also want to be able to carry those foods away from the cafeteria. Kiehn, for example, notes that in addition to the dedicated takeout locations on campus, there is a portable component to each of the university’s all-you-care-to-eat dining halls.

Catherine Boucher, manager of food and nutrition services at Martha Jefferson Hospital, a 176-bed hospital in Charlottesville, Va., also notes the link between made-to-order and portability. At present, 20% to 25% of the hospital’s staff take food away from the cafeteria. Boucher says she expects that percentage to increase once a new hospital is completed in 2011, precisely because made-to-order will be a primary component of the new cafeteria.

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