Success in the Restaurant Business (When It’s Not Your Business)

Aug 29, 2019

Today’s non-commercial foodservice providers face more pressures than the average restaurant. So how do you stay competitive and wow your guests?

The dining public has high expectations that continue to grow. Whether it’s organic ingredients, local sourcing, fair trade certified, or cruelty-free, today’s restaurant guests expect that their standards for quality, as well as their dietary needs, are met at every meal. Restaurants with experienced back-of-house teams strive to meet these ever-changing demands while keeping food and staffing costs at bay.

Whether ordering a post-workout smoothie at their gym, buying lunch at their corporate café, or treating their family to snacks at an amusement park, foodservice customers assume that they will have their pick of high quality, better-for-you menu options no matter where they’re eating.

This long-standing trend puts additional pressure on businesses that operate dining facilities but aren’t traditional foodservice operators. Amusement parks, family entertainment centers, corporate and college cafeterias, airports, and housing communities are just a few of the entities who have been forced to upgrade their menu options and food quality to serve a demanding dining public. Rather than seeing this challenge as an inconvenience, institutions and corporations with F&B programs can develop dining strategies that create a competitive advantage.

Amusement Parks and Entertainment Centers: Bringing the Wow with Wellness

In our recent work with water parks, family entertainment centers, and amusement parks, the challenge is to balance the expectation of “fun foods” with a growing desire for healthier options. We’ve addressed these needs by raising the level of food quality in ingredient sourcing for menu items with wide appeal. For example, using a blend of chuck, brisket, and short rib for burgers and top-shelf ice cream for milkshakes greatly enhances flavor and gives the operator a greater value proposition to promote on their menus. In addition, by building these items with greater plating presence and over-the-top garnishes, guests looking for these fun foods to complement their experience are willing to pay a bit more for visual appeal.

At the same time, not every amusement park guest wants burgers and shakes. Creating healthier options that still convey a brand personality infused with fun provides an interesting culinary challenge. Items like elote corn with herb garnishes and grain bowls with interesting blends of roasted vegetables deliver color, depth of flavor, and appealing  options for vegetarian and vegan guests. Offering these better-for-you items appeals to adults who bring children to amusement parks but want a better meal for themselves. This type of menu approach satisfies a wide range of guests and, if promoted correctly, can provide a compelling point of difference for the park operator.

Colleges and Universities: Aligning with Guests Needs and Values

The drab cafeteria offerings on college campuses are largely a thing of the past, considering today’s student demands and increased competition. The typical college dining hall has been replaced with vibrant food stations and grab-and-go options to cater to a generation more inclined to snack than sit down to eat. In addition, university cafeterias no longer have a lock on the student dining population. Restaurants looking to appeal to college-age audiences build a part of their real estate strategy around securing locations near college campuses and offering promotions and delivery deals geared toward students.

College campus dining

So how do college dining halls compete with the marketing power and brand recognition of large restaurant chains? One strategy is to align their operations with the expectations and values of their student customers. Besides being focused on ingredient quality and sourcing, college-age customers are also concerned with sustainability, reducing food waste, and eliminating food insecurity. Along with meeting the menu variety and student health concerns, university foodservice outlets can develop programs to donate leftovers to local food banks, collect food scraps for composting, and offering specially priced meals for students on strict budgets.

Solutions for Non-commercial Foodservice Operators

Considering the pressures on noncommercial food outlets for menu innovation and operating efficiencies, how do these hospitality providers stay competitive? Partnerships offer a compelling solution for companies who would rather pay an outside operator to provide food service within the facility. For example, Sodexo is partnering with plant-based chain Veggie Grill to install outlets on select university and college campuses next year. On the upside, contract foodservice operators like HMS Host provide a turnkey solution for institutions who don’t want the pressures of being in the food service business.

For smaller operators such as residential clubhouses or country clubs with a limited customer base, using a contract operator may not be an option due to low volume. So what’s the solution? Work with an experienced food service provider or consultant to help develop a scaled foodservice solution that can be operated successfully with a lean staff and minimal overhead. For example, smaller operators can take cues from restaurants who have scaled their operations to fit the smaller footprints of food halls and food trucks but still provide innovate and vibrant menus that appeal to today’s diner with minimal space and maximum food quality.

Meeting today’s expectations for food quality, convenience, and sustainability doesn’t have to be a chore. Contact Synergy to help turn your noncommercial foodservice operation into a competitive advantage and profit center.


Retirement Communities Going Above and Beyond

Aug 29, 2019

Assisted living, retirement homes, active senior communities – all terminology referring to communities with a minimum resident age, typically starting at 55, and this demographic is booming. According to the US Census Bureau, the number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to nearly double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million by 2060. The demand for senior living facilities and communities will continue to grow.

And with that ever-growing demand comes more options as consumer preferences evolve. These days, it is not uncommon to find senior lifestyle communities that are much like resorts, equipped with high-end amenities like movie theaters, fitness centers, salons, and restaurants. Of course, not all retirement options are this glamorous, but focus on improved food choices provided at these homes and centers is on the rise. Traditional meal options won’t make the grade for today’s more active and food-savvy seniors.

Consumers not yet living in senior living communities often have concerns about menu fatigue and uninspired foodservice.  Savvy residential operators are addressing concerns proactively to attract retirees with dining options that cater to their unique tastes and needs while offering a restaurant-quality experience and opportunities to socialize. Surveys show that retirees looking to join a senior living community are interested in having a variety of foodservice options from which to choose including cafes, restaurants, food halls and retail markets. They also want more access to snacks and room service.

At Garden Spot Village in New Holland, PA, you’ll find four unique restaurants (plus a Starbucks) each with a distinct menu and style—from table-side service to casual dining. Over in Westport, CT, Maplewood Senior Living offers residents locally-sourced ingredients from their own farm as well as other vendors. Yes, it’s senior-living with garden-to-table cuisine! Finding that they were behind the times, Elim Park in Cheshire, CT has recently overhauled its dining and common areas to give seniors a unique and engaging multi-restaurant platform experience. The building footprint expanded by 5,000 square feet, providing space for the new Springhouse Bistro and the Elim Park Baking Co. bakery café, connected through a common seating space that ties the concepts together and creates a sense of community. 

Other senior food trends to look out for

  • Skilled chefs heading up the kitchen and delivering unique meal choices
  • Open kitchens to elevate the dining experience and provide transparency in food preparation
  • Food trucks to bring an array of culinary options
  • Individualized attention for those with special food preferences, dietary restrictions or food allergies

Dining options and foodservice strategy can differentiate one senior living community from the other. We’ll be on the lookout for more of these trends as the aging demographic increases and becomes choosier. If you operate a retirement or senior living community and would like to learn how you can improve your foodservice operations or restaurant menus, please contact Synergy.