5 operators look at the silver linings that emerged in 2020

The pandemic brought a tough year for foodservice operations, but some positives came out of the challenges.
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Few would argue that 2020 was a most challenging year for the foodservice industry.

But five notable operators who participated in “2020 in Review: Silver Linings from Five Foodservice Segments,” a recent webinar hosted by the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association, were asked to find some positives that came out of the pandemic. And they delivered.

The participants represented four noncommercial segments: Bertrand Weber of Minneapolis Public Schools, Kevin D’Onofrio of University at Albany, David Reeves of Lee Health and Mark Freeman of Ford Motor Company. Also on the IFMA panel was restaurant operator Louis Basile of fast-casual concept Wildflower.

Weber kicked off the discussion with a compliment to the U.S Department of Agriculture. School districts rely on USDA subsidies for meals, and when COVID hit, the department moved very quickly to provide universal meals for free. “Most districts will lose money in 2020, and this allowed us to be reimbursed for all the school meals we provided,” he said. “This was a big silver lining.”

Weber also pointed out that so many more households became food insecure in the past year, and the USDA meals allowed the Minneapolis school district to feed a greater number of families in need. “This was our biggest accomplishment,” he said.

“The consciousness about ending childhood hunger was brought to the forefront when schools had to close,” said Basile, leading restaurants to discover ways to help out. Wildflower donated meals to charter schools and other educational institutions, he said.

Like Weber’s experience with the USDA, D’Onofrio was impressed at how his operation was able to accelerate processes. The ability to be more nimble was a definite plus. Going forward, “we’ll be better at making decisions faster,” D’Onofrio added.

Some of the innovations that he hopes will stick on campus include mobile ordering, pop-ups, ghost kitchens and outposts for students picking up meals.

Reeves is eager to see some of Lee Health’s 2020 tech innovations facilitate foodservice in 2021. His operation is now using online ordering and delivery—models he wants to continue. “We were forced to try things overnight that would have previously taken a long time to implement,” he said.

Freeman was proud of the way Ford Motor Company figured out how to engage with the at-home worker. “We got really creative with online social events, cooking demos, Friday cocktail parties and other virtual gatherings,” he said. “That ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking was a true silver lining.”

The virtual events also generated more attention from the C-suite for the foodservice program at Ford. “They are now looking at what amenities mean and how they are affecting the corporate worker,” said Freeman. “And the executives are more involved in how to move foodservice forward once the workforce comes back permanently.”

After all of the successful adaptations foodservice programs put into practice over the last nine months, 2021 will elevate the status of foodservice and its workers, all agreed, which is a bona fide silver lining to a year of disruption and devastation.


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