What happened to the fundamentals in food operations? I may be dating myself but when I was just counter high and working in my Grandfather’s deli, sprinkling sawdust on the floor, and straightened out cans on the shelves, I remember that the business never required a formal meeting, a computer, or for that matter a calculator. I remember my uncles behind the deli, my grandmother behind the register, and my grandfather making basket cheese and mozzarella in the back kitchen. Were those the days and there was no doubt that everyone worked hard, and by the end of the day, the restuarants near me staff was exhausted. The difference was the staff loved his or her jobs and had fun doing it.

Thinking back about the design of the store, which was relatively small but had any food item that you could possibly need within the stores simple design. When walking into the store, to your left and right were the canned goods and fresh pasta. The pasta was fresh and placed in bins and served by the pound. The right wall had all the refrigeration and freezers, the left side of the store has a long deli counter where customers could purchase hot or cold items, cakes, coffee. If a customer knew my grandfather, they were offered a little Sambvca in the coffee, at no charge.

These old times had many challenges with the recession and people making pennies a week but I need to ask these questions, what are the differences today?
The main difference is the love of job followed by the passion and camaraderie of the staff and the relationships with vendors and customers. The food business is about the people and the food and if anyone thinks differently, he or she does not understand the food business. There are certain basic expectations when a customer walks into a food establishment and that is, it needs to be clean, organized, have good displays, and friendly smiling faces, which is the most important ingredient of a successful operation.

Maintaining the excitement and passion in food service requires strategies on how to develop people and stressing the importance of hospitality, which is the most challenging because the industry has become overly complicated.

Take the meaning of fresh food as our first example. The meaning of fresh food to some establishments is finishing the item on premise, which is taking the food items out of a box and placing it in the oven. Some think fresh food must be organic whereas others have no clue about the difference between fresh or frozen.

At this time, let us think through the operational design process. We have our equipment companies, designer, architects, marketing people, menu design group, financial people, sometimes a third party who has a food idea, and so on. The concerns are, do the “professionals” understand the vision and expectations of the business.

What about food purchasing and the purchasing groups where the focus is on drop size, volume discounts, commodities, givebacks but none of these incentives address quality of food and building consistence in menu.

Thinking back to my grandfather’s deli, there was always a sense of pride with the quality of served food, and there was entrepreneurial spirit that lived in each person who worked in the deli. How I do miss those days.

Nevertheless, today generates new opportunities with new challengers. The missing link is the proverbial owner. People understand that “the owner” in many businesses do not reside at the business location but in some corporate office but is this an excuse to not deliver a clear message by the organization to his or her managers about caring about the customers and staff. Leadership’s role is to lead by example, by training and communicating the importance of the goals and expectations.

Pencil and crayons is a term that refers to, going back to basics, and simplicity, of design, menu, service, atmosphere, and a culture. Unfortunately, many of food service concepts are cookie cutter concepts. However, what drives success is leadership and leadership realizing a cookie cutter design may work, but there are, no cookie cutter approaches in dealing with people.

Whether one is introducing a room service of point of service programs, designing a cafeteria, upgrading or opening a retail food operation there needs to be a plan for the intangibles. A good design will lend itself to operational ease and a good marketing looking but in the business plan there needs to be reference to the “owner’s perspective” and ensuring this person has the skills to work with people and deliver success.

As with any business, the day-to-day operators are the most important individual in the operation and operators require the support, resources, and a clear vision allowing the operator to make good decisions. With today’s opportunity “sustainability may have been the buzzword of the decade, but it too reflects a back-to- basics mindset of careful resource usage and judicious budget spending” (Fassl, 1, 2010).

The food business although simplistic in theory is complicated and operators need to learn to “dance the dance” and be able to operator after all the support and the proverbial “expert matter” professions go home. Lessons learned is learning from my grandfather where each day the focus was on good food and friendly service within a winning design and not the other way around.

Fassl, Joyce, (January 1, 2010). Back to basics: Everything old is new again. FoodEngineering, retrieved October 26, 2011, from EoodEngineering online magazine.

Author’s Bio

Andrew Catalano residing in Maspeth, New York has worked in the food service industry for over 30 years working for private, corporate, and healthcare related food business. Andrew hold a Master degree in Strategic Management, which give him the refined skills to think through the problems, develop a vision, and plan next steps to improve the quality and value of the operation. Please join Andrew by visiting the online magazine called “The Schechter Report” where the theme of Andrew’s Blog is based on the food industry through the eyes of the operator, appropriated titled the “Operators Perspective”.

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