Foodservice Best and Worst Practices

betsi1finalDiscipline and accountability are key factors in executing your brand’s message. Have an action plan developed and stay focused on your end result.

By Betsi Bixby.

The most profitable retail chains we did market business valuations for this year all had one thing in common: great foodservice results. The least profitable chains (and units) either didn’t have foodservice or showed huge waste (food, supplies and labor) causing dismal results. Are you in foodservice? See how you check out on these five critical success factors.

1 Who’s in Charge. When I see units with foodservice losses, I often inquire about accountability. I’ll ask, “Who is in charge of making sure foodservice is profitable?” You can likely guess the answer. Either “no one really” or “the retail supervisor” or “the store manager.” Even with the last two answers showing some accountability, both of these positions typically have lots more on their plate other than foodservice. So without a true food focus it’s not surprising the results are dismal.

On the other hand, when I find a chain with great results and ask the same question, they invariably name a specific, sole-function person with accountability for their foodservice success. Then, in the next breath, they tell me about that person’s performance compensation. Interesting, isn’t it? So what’s your take-away? Have one person accountable for results and reward them.

2 Proprietary Versus Franchise Concept. In Meridian’s experience, there are specific instances where franchises work well, but I don’t see across-the-board consistency with franchise brands. In some units, a particular franchise does great. In another area, even with the exact same demographic profile, that same franchise may underperform. I used to think the cause of the variance was staffing/training differences. But that is not always true.

On the other hand, I see consistently amazing results with proprietary concepts. While you might assume it’s the cost-savings from not having to pay royalties or franchise fees, I don’t believe that is the complete answer. A factor, but not the whole answer. When I drill down into the success, it’s more about diligence, commitment and attention.

What I’ve come to know is that operators who bother with their own brand concept are deadly serious about results. Any negatives (shrink, labor overages, etc.) are quickly addressed and cured. For example, one client of ours started a proprietary concept years ago, but over time they suspected that shrink was starting to grow. They immediately swung into action.

Their first step was to hire a bright, young local person fresh out of college to study the problem. She immediately realized there was a shortage of reliable measures, so recommended a revamp of the financial reporting. This was quickly executed. With good measures in place, she began studying root causes.

Her findings led to a conclusion that the actual menu was too large. With a menu overhaul focused on fewer choices, less ingredients and different uses for previously trashed items, plus training on smarter food handling, this chain is now knocking it out of the park on foodservice profits. Your learning is that focus, flexibility and action make you money.

3 Match the Foodservice Offer to Your Market. I almost didn’t mention this as it seems so obvious, but sometimes we miss the simplest steps in foodservice. For example, do not put in a food concept that you like. It doesn’t matter what you like. It matters what your market likes. And, if you can be the only one in that space, or significantly superior to your competitors, you will win.
This means you may have to tweak even your proprietary offerings from site to site.

When I see losing sites and ask if they’ve ever had a demographic study, the answer is usually, “no, we didn’t want to spend the money.” When I ask highly profitable operators the same question, they usually tell me the study is standard procedure. Your best starting point is to get a good demographic study, which will give you great data about your target market area.

4 Hours of Operation and Staffing. Once you get past food costs, it’s the labor that will make or break a food operation. A trend I’ve observed in the most profitable marketers is again about flexibility, setting hours at each location separately based on market demand. Depending on traffic patterns, access during high traffic times and a host of other variables, the best foodservice operators are masters at correct staffing by individual location, not being married to set hours at all locations.

Contrast this to operators who run every location on the same schedule. Their savvier, more profitable counterparts use part-time help during peak hours and appear to be more thoughtful about demand patterns.

A staffing-related, large differentiating factor between very profitable and marginally profitable foodservice is also shift change procedures. Profitable operators tend to be either more organized, more automated or both. Plus, they have less overlapping time during shift changes.

Your action is to review foodservice hours, staffing and shift change requirements, driving costs down and efficiency up.

5 Unit Level Incentives. The most profitable marketers I see share a mini profit and loss statement (P&L) with their foodservice managers, who share that with their foodservice personnel. Then they take that one step further with a bump in hourly wage rate (I’ve seen as high as $2.00 per hour) for teams that completely meet their goals. The best incentive programs are measured and rewarded weekly. You want action now.

The least profitable chains rarely share anything with anyone. Either they don’t have the data, or feel sharing those kind of numbers are unwarranted. A few years back Meridian produced an e-learning course called Dollars and Sense, which explains petroleum/c-store finance at a very basic level aimed at a those without any financial background.

One of the things that shocked even me was the cost-saving ideas the participants produced. When a c-store clerk is given only a bit of information and comes up with five-figure or in one instance a six-figure idea for their store, you know he should be given a voice.

So, figure out what you want your foodservice team to do, then give appropriate and immediate rewards for doing the right thing. If you pay attention to just these five profit drivers in your foodservice offering, I promise you’ll increase profits quickly and then your food really will be fun.

Betsi Bixby, and her company Meridian Associates Inc., currently assists more than 3,300 of this country’s petroleum marketers increase cash flow and profits through education, strategic planning facilitation, merger mediation, business valuation and brokerage services. Her message is one of executable steps and core competencies that every petroleum marketer needs to know. For more
information, visit


Speak Your Mind