The military as business

An inside look at George Miller, retired U.S. Air Force veteran.

By Paul King, Editorial Director

I had an interesting and engaging interview Monday morning with George Miller, retired U.S. Air Force veteran, current chief of food and beverage operations for the Air Force,  and current IFMA Silver Plate winner in the Specialty Foodservice category. It was the kind of interview where you just turn on the tape recorder and sit back and listen.

After 48 years in the business—all but three of them with the Air Force—Miller has spanned the globe while trying to enhance the foodservice program for this branch of the service. And what he has done mirrors much of what has happened in other segments of the industry. Improving health and wellness, rolling in branded concepts, engaging global cuisines and trying to be more environmentally responsible all have had a focus under Miller’s watch.

The Air Force, as well as the other branches of the military, are trying their best to give personnel the same choices and options they can find in the “outside” world. Miller had the comment during the interview that the Air Force’s foodservice programs try to emulate what’s happening in college and university foodservice, “because that’s what our customers are looking for.”

That’s a revealing comment, especially in light of the category in which Miller earned his Silver Plate. Specialty Foodservice is kind of a catch-all category, to place nominations that don’t really seem to have a place. Catering falls there, along with segments such as prisons, cruise ships, country clubs and, yes, the military.

But when you examine what military foodservice really does, you begin to realize that it would fit quite neatly into the Business & Industry category. (For that matter, cruise ships could easily fall into the Hotels & Lodging category.) After all, isn’t the Air Force essentially a business? It hires personnel, some to serve as soldiers, sailors and airmen and others to fill civilian roles. The mess halls, galleys and other dining facilities serve the same purpose as the cafeterias at Google, Hallmark, Morgan Stanley and other corporations.

As Miller suggests, it also features elements of college dining, as well. Many of the personnel are of college age, and those who live “on campus” often get three meals a day from the foodservice department. But I still like the B&I model, and have suggested to Larry Oberkfell, president and CEO of IFMA, that the Gold & Silver Plate Society might consider switching military out of the specialty category to B&I.

From my conversation with George Miller, combined with the visit I paid in January to Naval Base San Diego, I can sense there is nothing “special” about military foodservice. But there is much that is innovative and noteworthy going on.

You can read about George Miller’s innovations in Air Force foodservice, along with those of the other Silver Plate winners, in the April issue of FoodService Director.