Successful foodservice operations require the orchestrated management of a complex range of front- and back-of-house activities. Fortunately, new tools are enabling operators to streamline these activities and contend more effectively with market factors like supply chain disruptions, inflation, labor shortages, and increasing service expectations.
According to recent CBORD Insights research, more than 50% of healthcare and higher education foodservice operators see technology as the key to meeting these challenges. Fortunately, they can call on a growing range of interoperable systems to create seamless customer and staff meal experiences. “Food service operations can now include everything from self-service point-of-sale systems, kiosks, and mobile ordering and payments to back-of-the-house systems for menu planning, ordering and inventory, nutrition tracking, and food production—among many others. That’s providing a lot of valuable decision data and new revenue streams,” says Rob DeCarlo, interim chief executive officer and chief financial officer at CBORD, which provides foodservice solutions to healthcare, education, senior living, and business campuses. “These interoperable tools can be cloud-based or hosted, and they are configurable to meet each organization’s needs.”
For operators looking to take advantage of this array of tools, a key question is how to find and shape the right solution for their organization. The answer, says DeCarlo, is to rely on two guiding principles: understand the experiences customers want and build connected systems to deliver them.
Why the Two Principles Are Important
In foodservice, delivering the right customer experience is essential, and that means keeping a finger on the pulse of constantly changing customer requirements. To that end, CBORD maintains a customer advisory board and collaborates closely with customers to design and enhance solutions. In addition, the company’s CBORD Insights program conducts ongoing research into market requirements. The research surveys executives, administrators, and staff at customer organizations, as well as those organizations’ customers—students, patients, residents, and guests. This research provides an objective touchpoint for understanding how to use technology to shape the customer experience.
Building connections across systems and functions can provide several benefits. In higher education, for example, colleges can create what CBORD calls “a connected campus,” where foodservice systems are linked not only with one another, but also with credential, commerce, and access-management systems. These connections help improve the overall student experience while generating a wealth of data on student activities, transactions, and preferences. In recent CBORD research, nearly 9 out of 10 higher education executives and administrators indicated a high level of interest in building a more connected campus. Similarly, healthcare system administrators say they are working to link menu- and inventory-management systems with vendors’ systems to streamline ordering, as well as to patient records to help ensure nutritional safety.
Centralized management of multiple foodservice facilities is another benefit of connected technologies. Integrated systems can reduce over-ordering, simplify substitutions, enable rapid menu changes, permit ingredient sharing, and allow other real-time adjustments across a network of locations, making overall operations more agile and cost effective. Centralization also produces more data for analytics, facilitating a data-driven, predictive approach to managing front- and back-of-house operations, as well as for financial and compliance reporting.
Charting the Right Course
By using the two principles to guide their efforts, organizations can design solutions that are right for them—and then create a multiyear roadmap for implementation. “This process requires a combination of both technical expertise and business/industry expertise,” says DeCarlo. Partnerships play a vital role, as well. “Working with a range of foodservice partners,” he explains,” such as US Foods®, and Sysco, commerce partners such as Oracle and Nextep Systems, and franchise partners like Grubhub—helps CBORD ensure that customers have access to a wide range of technologies and options.”
A roadmap allows implementations to be tailored to an organization’s needs and budgets. “We often help customers create roadmaps for moving forward incrementally to their ultimate goal while leveraging their existing technology,” DeCarlo says. Organizations can thus tackle their biggest pain points first, and then add more capabilities over time while ensuring that the technologies fit together to create a coherent, effective whole.
Navigating through the range of possibilities created by today’s foodservice technologies can be daunting. But by using the customer experience and connected systems concepts as guides, organizations can find the approach that’s right for them—one that makes foodservice more efficient, helps the organization reduce costs and add revenue streams, and increases customer satisfaction. Ultimately, says DeCarlo, “This approach is a win-win for operators and customers.”