Forward Thinking is in my company name because the importance of thinking ahead is paramount to anything else we do as business owners. Predictive thinking is a strategy for constantly improving. Restless dissatisfaction can drive us to find ways to capitalize on what’s working well and improve in areas that are struggling.
In my role as a menu creator, I hear the word “innovation” quite regularly, and it may be one of the most over-used words. Just to level-set, let’s reframe innovation as a way to do more with what you already have; a twist on the familiar, insight-driven adjustments and changes that meet needs and drive sales.
In the business of convenience foodservice, there are two issues that will impact our food businesses in 2022: 1. unpredictable supply, and 2. predictably low labor.
Our job is not only to survive in these circumstances, but to actually excel. We will have to be innovators.
Here are three innovative approaches to execute a great foodservice program and practical applications:
2. Do more with less.
3. Take the backseat.
With our creative hats on, let’s brainstorm what we can elevate.
Here’s what I mean by elevate: Like an elevator, move fast and efficiently from floor one to floor 99; from the Holiday Inn to the Ritz-Carlton; from mediocre to unforgettable. Elevating food can be a series of incremental improvements or a giant leap toward improving the customer experience.
Here are some ways to ELEVATE your food program:
- Lunchables to Charcuterie Boards: If small snacks and kids’ plastic meal kits are moving well in your location, why not check out bento boxes and higher-end charcuterie boards? Salami, cheese and crackers, nuts, olives and dried fruit are becoming more frequent lunches and snacks and can serve as an appetizer for anyone picking up beer or wine. Get inspiration from groceries. Ask distributors for ideas.
- Sausage Biscuit to French Toast Breakfast Sandwich: If breakfast does well in your location, ask distributors and key vendors for ideas. Limited-time offers (LTOs) in this category are easy to execute, often have the same or slightly-higher register ring, may help drive supplier incentives and can drive overall category sales.
- Same Old Same Old to Local Legends: Partner with local legends to bring in destination-driving items. Offer space to start-ups and small business owners to showcase their (inspected, approved) baked goods, candies, beverages, cheese curds, candles. Take advantage of direct-store-delivery scenarios; if you’re part of a chain, ask for legal and marketing support from corporate. Look for items that are better than the ones you offer and don’t be afraid to sell them.
Do More With Less
With labor shortages at store locations and at headquarters, there is a ton of work to do for those willing and able to do it. Let’s make it easy for them. Let’s work with what we have and elevate the messaging from level one to level 99.
- “Sorry, Out of Stock” to “We Have Lots of THIS!”: Create accurate planograms (POGs) that showcase multiple facings of top-movers. You may anticipate being out of stock on some key items, but you may be able to count on other items being in stock. Go ahead and set POGs now and communicate to store teams so that each store appears front-faced and fully stocked.
- Now Hiring to “Ask Me Why I Work Here”: If it sounds risky to ask this question now, then use this moment to address the “why.” Are there benefits you can list on the sign? Is there anything you can share to communicate what’s better about working here, than anywhere else? Share the path to leadership, the flexibility in scheduling hours, and any benefits that help set your unique location apart from those hiring next door.
- “We Are Staffed” to Actual Hospitality: One chain I know has obviously trained everyone at the register to always greet the person walking in. Every guest feels known and seen, and any potential communication barriers never exist. It literally takes no extra time or cost, and it stands out from other convenience brands.
Take the Backseat
This may be controversial advice: If you are a category manager in food and beverage, consider giving marketing space — like loyalty messaging, emails, billboards, radio — to other categories that are known to drive more customers to your locations.
The truth is that tobacco, fuel and lottery are often primary reasons customers stop by, so strategically speaking about food and beverages on valuable real estate at your site may be of more value to you than real estate off your site. It may sound crazy, but just consider it.
Jessica Williams founded and operates Food Forward Thinking in central Kentucky. She considers herself both a foodie and an operationally-minded menu developer. More at FoodForwardThinking.com.