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How foodservice operators can stay engaged while staying at home

A B&I chef shares his creative ideas for connecting with his community and peers, and reopening for business.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Like most B&I operators, Iraj Fernando, executive chef-manager for Southern Foodservice Managementis not currently working in the kitchens and dining rooms at Bosch LLC and other corporate clients. But staying at home doesn’t mean he can stay still.

By his own admission, inactivity is not an option for Fernando. While sheltering in place, he has come up with many innovative ideas to keep him and his operation connected with customers, staff, and personal and professional friends.

Iraj Fernando
Iraj Fernando

He’s also thinking ahead, creating a playbook for his post-COVID-19 operations. Fernando’s brainstorms may spark similar ideas for other operators to try.

Sharing recipes through Facebook videos

With his daughter as videographer, Fernando is recording recipe demos that he posts on his personal Facebook page. The 15-minute segments illustrate how-tos such as marinating chicken, layering quesadillas and making bruschetta. A new video is posted every week, and he alerts his followers through social media.

Hosting interactive Zoom meetings

To help quarantined consumers and peers shop and cook smarter, Fernando held a couple of “Clear the Pantry” Zoom meetings. Participants received tips on choosing groceries that can serve as basics for several meals and how to use pantry staples to create family dinners. A vegetarian recipe is always in the mix.

Improvising R&D at home

Corporate cafeterias at Bosch and other company headquarters are going to look and feel different when the businesses reopen. Service styles and menus will have to change, so Fernando is coming up with new grab-and-go items, sandwiches and salads. “We’ll have to bring the salad bar into an exhibition station where a team member will assemble it,” he says. He is also working on chopped salads and composed salads that can be packaged to go.

Reconfiguring the space

To promote social distancing, Fernando plans on setting up a pickup table. He predicts that employees will call in or email lunch orders, then come in at designated times to get their food from the table. The grill cook will be responsible for assembling sandwiches and adding condiments, as condiment stations will have to go. The same will apply for pitchers of milk at coffee stations.

A welcome-back menu

To add a personal touch to the reopening and welcome back employees, “I’d like to do a ‘10 days of greatest hits’ menu for the first two weeks we’re open,” Fernando says. “Noncommercial chefs have an advantage [over restaurants]. Our customers know who is cooking for them, creating a greater level of trust.”

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