The face of foodservice customers is changing, requiring operators to rethink the business-to-customer (B2C) relationship. Foodservice operators have been seeing a shift in their customer base for many years, due in part to the advances of technology.
On the back end of the foodservice business, operators are using technology to order products, create production reports, recipes and financials, but fewer operators are using front of the house technology to their advantage. There is no doubt that customers have less time to enjoy a meal and the window of opportunity is becoming smaller to market a program appropriately.
Whether one works for a large contract company or operates independently, thinking virtual needs to be part of the business strategy. When reviewing food operations, one needs to departmentalize each functional area of the business. Larger organizations use their resources to develop strategic plans within their products, processes and customer demographic divisions. The advantage of a large organization is the layers of staff in each division, but this also creates complexities and slows reaction times to customer shifts. In a small or independent foodservice come simplicity and the ability to react quickly to customer shifts. In either situation, front-line operators must keep their fingers on the business pulse and develop a B2C plan that works for their program.
When creating a strategy to develop a B2C plan, operators should determine their most popular products and how best to package these items for customers. The next step is how key products are made. Operators need to review how their products are produced and if there is duplication of efforts. A logical starting point is to batch production steps versus duplicating production at different areas. The next step, which focuses on the customer and facility layout, is the most important to understand and where most of the operator’s time must focus.
When a customer enters a foodservice, they should encounter options for ordering and paying for products. There needs to be an express checkout or an advance ordering system in place to maximize and limit waiting times. The most successful operations have web sites where customers can go and pre-order food or review menu choices and specials. Foodservices should also have separate checkout stations for pick-up orders and traditional purchases.
Operators have many ways to create B2C strategies and many of these options do not require a large infusion of capital, but only a reorganization of service counters and marketing, whether customers enter the brick and mortar business or order through a virtual portal.
There is no question the foodservice business requires operators to think virtual by focusing on expanding their customer base through e-commerce and multiple checkout processes. Customers now have the choice, via a click of a mouse, to access a pre-ordering process that improves convenience. Some operators may say that today’s customers will sacrifice quality and price for convenience. I didn’t think focusing only on convenience is the answer, and is short sighted. This is why creating a complete strategic plan focused on the customer-service process, including products, production and user satisfaction, is required to build a successful foodservice program in today’s market.