Keeping up with the consumers, regulations and visionaries that propel the noncommercial foodservice industry forward is a full-time job in itself. But hey, at least it keeps things interesting. “Each day in our industry is different, and that is precisely what draws me to foodservice, makes boredom impossible and keeps me hungry for more,” says 31-year-old Holly Thaw, school nutrition program coordinator at Savannah-Chatham County Public School System in Savannah, Ga.”
Earlier this year, FoodService Director spotlighted young innovators such as Thaw who are helping to shape a brave new noncommercial industry. We asked these 30 under 30-somethings to gaze into their crystal balls and tells us what they see in the future of foodservice. Here’s what the industry will look like in five years, as told by millennials.
A holistic view
A growing food-as-medicine movement has shaped the career paths of some young foodservice pros. Brianna Benedict, a 24-year-old general manager II for Sodexo at St. Margaret’s Center in Albany, N.Y., wants people to speak both foodservice and nutrition fluently to be able to understand the big picture for guests. “Through fulfilling my goal of obtaining my registered dietitian certification, I will have a deeper understanding of how food fuels our bodies,” Benedict says. “Foodservice director-dietitians are few and far between, so that is something that would really push me to where I see myself down the road.”
A healthcare makeover
Though it won’t happen overnight, the healthcare industry will be well on its way to shirking the “hospital food” stigma, according to Joshua Iufer, director of food and nutrition for Morrison Healthcare at Sutter Alta Bates Summit Medical Center: Herrick Campus in Berkeley, Calif. And cutting-edge technology just might help that cause. “Whether it’s watching a biography of the farmer who supplied your meal on your hospital TV, or having food apps automatically sync with the diet plan your dietitian recommended, the industry is poised for a major shakeup,” the 27-year-old says.
School nutrition on the brink
With the current political climate, some young folks are unsure what the K-12 segment will look like a few years down the road. “I am honestly concerned about the state of school meal programs going forward, with budgets and expectations being cut, which will hinder us from providing healthy meals,” says Samantha Herod, food truck manager at Austin Independent School District in Austin, Texas. The 28-year-old plans to continue to advocate for healthy food in schools.
However, the segment will likely continue to progress, as the industry tries to keep up with their “demanding consumers,” says Kate Dienst, a 32-year-old senior resident dietitian at Chartwells K-12 at Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, Fla. And as school meals get more trendy, it won’t be just students who want a piece of the action, says Brittany Jones, chef trainer for nutrition services at Houston Independent School District. “People will want to come eat lunch with your kids more often because of the high quality of foods and the fashion-forward environment,” 28-year-old Jones says.
Catering to a new generation
The industry is bracing for Gen Z’s take on sustainability and health, says Kevin Ealy, student programs coordinator for the University of Illinois Housing Dining Services at Champaign, Ill. But the generational shift will also impact the workplace, as Ealy’s operation works to hire 500 to 700 Gen Zers in the coming year. “This means more changes to how we hire, train and communicate with our student staff and customers,” 33-year-old Ealy says.
More focus on experiences
Consumers' thirst for experiential dining has only just begun. Events and gatherings will likely become more focused on creating unforgettable experiences for attendees, says Aileen Schuh, general manager of conference services for Flik Hospitality at Blue Cross Blue Shield in Richardson, Texas. “There needs to be engagement from the audience and that wow factor to grab their attention,” Schuh, 32, says. “I will need to ensure I’m being creative and providing options on how to bring engagement into meetings.”
Diners will be looking for food experiences they cannot get anywhere else, says Paige Willauer, general manager for Centerplate at Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip, N.Y. The 27-year-old predicts we’ll see more creative collaborations and events, such as microbreweries making a certain style of beverage for a specific stadium.
Technology thins the pack
As technology continues to make life easier, the industry’s grueling physical labor might become less and less attractive, says Desmond Fannin, director of culinary training and support for culinary solutions at Sodexo in Gaithersburg, Md. But workers cannot get by solely on their hard work and sweat, as tech continues to play a bigger part of the industry. “I think tech will provide more opportunities for those willing to do the manual work to get their foot in the door, and create more opportunities for culinarians to prove that they can do more than just cook,” 37-year-old Fannin says.