As newly appointed president of the Society for Foodservice Management, Carol Bracken-Tilley, director of Strategic Solutions at Compass Group, spoke to FSD about the challenges and trends she sees for operators and the association in the coming year.
I think we are still facing tough economic times but recovering slowly. Companies are still keeping an eye on foodservice costs in general, whether it’s a subsidized account or costs in catering or how much staff we have. Second, I think there is still this push for wellness. It’s a challenge because we continually have to meet companies’ wellness initiatives, especially in light of new healthcare reform and how that could affect all aspects of the hospitality industry. Third, I think there is still a lot of concern about carbon footprint. We need to focus on how we can continually reduce it inside of the foodservice world, whether it’s through packaging, energy reduction or local procurement of goods. Sustainability in a broad sense is still a major concern.
Every company has different goals and objectives for reducing costs. Some companies might be concerned with service hour reductions or limiting menus, and others might look at it as an overhaul of how much energy they take in. I believe foodservice is starting to come back in playing an important part in the company’s culture. We lost a little bit of focus on that in the past five years because foodservice seemed to be a quick and easy thing for companies to cut. The foodservice program for a company will hopefully once more become a service that will help attract and retain employees
One thing we have focused on is waste reduction, which I think is something that many companies didn’t focus on a few years ago. Usually in a corporate environment one of the biggest culprits is foodservice waste and reducing it has a lot of cost benefits. Not only does it reduce the cost to the company that is paying to have the waste hauled away, but operations can also reduce costs if there are better tracking tools in the kitchen, which can show we’re purchasing less food and therefore running better food costs.
I’d love to have that crystal ball. I think health and wellness is always going to be at the top of the list, at least for the next couple of years, as foodservice is becoming a very integral part in companies’ overall wellness programs. That said, I think technology and the way we communicate with our customers is really rising to the top. Social media is definitely something that the B&I world has been behind on, especially compared to what college and universities have done. I think we have a lot of opportunities in social media to attract our customers into our dining centers.
I think the economy has hit many associations, and SFM is no different. We are focusing on building back our membership and making sure the corporate dining industry knows that they have a valuable resource in SFM. The role of the client liaison has changed from being a dedicated liaison role to a role that incorporates many other responsibilities such as facility management, finance or HR. We want to make sure that those people understand that they have a resource in the industry to get educated on corporate foodservice.
We want to increase SFM’s value to its members by continuing to provide industry-specific information. For example, in 2002 a session on the value of corporate foodservice was presented at our national conference. This white paper has been utilized by many in our association but it needs to be updated and supported with more data points such as a productivity study and a foodservice break-even worksheet. These are tools every person in corporate dining should have at their disposal.
Another goal is to make sure we are growing our regional local networking groups. Again, I think this is a by-product of the economy, but we’ve seen more and more people attending the local networking groups, which is proof that people want to network and they want education about corporate foodservice. So building content and developing programming that can be taken around to each group is going to be important for me. We also want to reach out to local sponsors and vendors so they can tap into these groups as well.