We all realize how important restaurants are to those who have a need to celebrate. Anniversaries, weddings, birthdays, and holidays or simply because it is Friday: our guests are looking for a reason to celebrate in restaurants of all types. Chefs and restaurateurs are always looking for a venue that will lead to success whether it is a freestanding operation off an active traffic artery, a destination restaurant with a spectacular view or a hotel with its captive clientele. After all, we still subscribe to Ellsworth Statler’s three most important attributes for a business: location, location, and location.
What we tend to sometimes over look are the numerous other reasons why people dine out: social networking, a need for conversation, a time to reflect, a perfect stress reliever, the joy in having someone else cook and clean up, or a simple respite from the pressures of life. All of these factors point to a significant sector of the foodservice market that is growing, but that finds it challenging to attract those mover and shaker chefs and highly competent restaurateurs. This market has been labeled (portraying it as limiting) as “B and I” (business and industry) or Contract Feeding. In both cases the labels infer that this is a utilitarian sector with the primary goal of delivering food in large quantity to an impatient market. This is, of course, not very inspiring for those working in that segment, nor those choosing to spend their money there.
The “institutional (God awful term)” segment includes: hospitals, school cafeterias, college food operations, workplace cafeterias, transportation centers, senior centers and retirement complexes. We should all take a step back and think about this market and the opportunities that are present with a different mindset pertaining to food and the impact that it can have on participants.
Beginning with hospitals: I have yet to meet a person who looks forward to spending time in a hospital. Typically you are admitted because there is a problem – something that needs to be identified and fixed. There will be poking and prodding, lots of angst, potentially negative outcomes, and pretty significant expenses as a result. What does a patient have to look forward to? Friends and relatives who visit share in many of the same feelings that the patient does with hours and sometimes days spent bed side or in waiting rooms. Additionally, staff members have an emotionally and physically stressful job caring for people with issues and associated angst. In all cases, there needs to be opportunities for stress release and reward at some level. Food is a common denominator and one that can make a real difference in the hospital experience, yet finding kitchens that attract serious culinarians or those with the mindset of restaurant service is challenging. This is not a segment that young culinary professionals typically put at the top of their career wish list. Yet, what a difference they could make in the lives of the deliverer of health services and the recipient of care. People have the same food preferences and needs while in this environment as they do back on their home turf.
School and college food outlets provide similar opportunities. Remember, Americans now spend more than 50% of their food dollar in some type of restaurant. Those students of various ages have an expectation and a need when it comes to the foods they are served. This is the time when young palettes can be molded and developed for the rest of their lives. Restaurateurs and chefs can play a significant role in this process and should look to school and college feeding as more than another a place to deliver food, but rather-a place where concepts and content can have an impact on a growing restaurant profile group and where new ideas can be nurtured on discriminating palettes.
Understanding the needs of employees who work in office complexes and plants is critical to the success of food operations in those venues. Exciting, contemporary, appropriate concepts and menus can greatly improve the morale of this audience (fairly captive by the way) and impact on the financial performance of those businesses where they work.
Transportation centers have been the punching bags of the media in recent years as flight delays, security lines, invasion of personal space, and lack of guest comfort seems to be the norm. Frustrated and sometimes angry travelers have typically low expectations of the food offered in these venues and the service mentality of those who work in those operations. The market is wide open for great food experiences and talented chefs and restaurateurs.
Finally, senior centers and retirement communities are being filled with aging Baby Boomers. This is the most highly educated, well-traveled, sophisticated consumer group that this country has ever known. They need intellectual stimulation, have well developed food palettes, know wine and great coffee and feel somewhat empty when those opportunities are not present. Yet, it would be very hard to find a senior venue that understands this and provides those restaurant experiences for this large and growing population. As people age, their ability to smell and taste changes. Talented chefs and restaurateurs can find ample opportunities to show their abilities to this audience and identify ways to support their careers while making a real difference in peoples lives.
An increasingly large segment of the American population spends time in these segments every day. Young chefs, cooks, managers and restaurateurs could and should look to these areas as career tracks and business opportunities. Partnerships with hospitals, colleges, office complexes, travel centers and senior living environments can lead to rewarding business opportunities.
There are many companies and venues that “get it” and are re-charging their efforts at adapting to changing markets and in some cases defining what this segment should look like moving forward. All of them provide terrific opportunities for talent chefs, cooks, managers and aspiring restaurateurs. Visit their websites for more information.
Nutrition Management Services
LePain Quotidien Bakery Cafes
Paul French Bakeries
Leisure Care Retirement Facilities