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Foodservice Programming Outside the Lines
Foodservice Programming Outside the Lines

For most, the term programming does not hold much meaning in normal day-to-day life.  However, it plays a role in many aspects of your life.  Imagine for example, you decide to build your forever dream home.  You have a plan to include everything on your wish list.  It seems perfect until you begin to live in your new home and realize key details were overlooked or missing altogether.  Why did you install the washing machine down two flights of stairs from the bedroom?  How did you overlook installing a pot filler over Fido’s water dish to eliminate multiple trips to the sink?  Your forever dream home missed its mark and you wonder, how did that happen?  The essential first step of the design process, the programming…the foundation of the design if you will…was missed.

Now imagine being an aspiring restaurant owner, or a corporate CEO planning for the company’s new café, or a college with the vision to rebrand the campus’ foodservice to grow enrollment.  Programming is a critical and first step in the design process, one that must be performed for a successful design and operational outcome.  Consider it a “plan now” or “pay later” exercise that cannot be eliminated.

Outside the Lines

The basic principles of a design program are to define the vision and parameters that guide the design process.  As a consultant engaged by a client to assist with planning their new foodservice operation, I make it my utmost priority to become an authentic partner and educator with the mission to understand the vision and “whys” for the project, an essential component of programming outside the lines.

Today, defining a foodservice program is not as simple as using some standard statistical calculation or industry “rule of thumb” that defines spaces with square footages. The world is changing and so is the demand for new, innovative culinary experiences. From mobile ordering and delivery to implementing sustainability initiatives, embracing global ideas, and supporting worthy causes, new components must be considered if you want your design to engage customers, increase demand, and subsequently drive up profits.  Programming outside the lines has never been more significant.

The Why of It

As a foodservice operator for over 25 years, I have seen and worked in hundreds of commercial kitchens, cafés, concession venues, and more.  I asked myself on numerous occasions what the rationale was for the functional back-of-house production and support spaces, food station layouts, and overall layout to be designed the way that it was.  Did the design deliver an inviting and engaging food experience?  Some were well thought-out, and some fell short. Nine times out of ten, the designs that were poorly executed resulted in sub-par customer experiences.  Service and food quality were compromised.  And in the back-of-house, it led predictably to challenging working conditions and high labor costs.  This was unfortunate given the large capital cost investment for the facility and could have been avoided with a programming exercise.

The Easy Part – Data Gathering

The fundamentals during data gathering are elementary. Asking questions to aid in defining the vision for foodservice. Requesting the basic information needed to calculate participation demand including employee population, length of lunch hour, general breakdown of employee demographics, how often employees work outside the office… all become considering contributions for a program. Data gathering is completed with the intention of determining the projected demand levels that outline the considerations to adequately size the facilities that service the customer.  But there is more to programming than just calculations of peak meal periods.

The Overlooked Part

Unfortunately, some fundamentals during foodservice programming are overlooked.  Understanding the owner’s/client’s expectations for providing the service tops the list.  The client who says “we just want to reach as many customers as possible” may not have a good understanding of foodservice operations (why would they?) and the potential ongoing costs associated with providing the amenity.   It is important for a consultant to take the client’s broad statement and help them define in detail their expectations while educating them on the potential options available to meet those goals.  Equally essential, financial modeling education and an overview of all cost-impacting factors to achieve the objectives and overall outcome for the desired program must be provided as a part of the program.

Putting It All Together

Let’s take another look at the client’s broad objective, “we just want to reach as many customers as possible.” The overall program should identify the operating model using varied and different solutions.  Some will be “tried and true” …the data gathering.  Others will be “trending and evolutionary” …different options to achieve the desired objective.

In this example, we identify innovative delivery solutions such as dedicated and convenient mobile ordering and food pick-up areas outside of the traditional café and service areas as the key to “reaching as many customers as possible.”  The objective then becomes “to reach an increased number of diners by implementing multiple innovative delivery solutions while meeting the client’s financial objectives.”  It is better defined and more focused to attain desired outcomes.

A Solid Foundation

A well-developed foodservice program is the solid foundation for the design that follows. Providing thorough well thought out programming and concepting recommendations leads to fewer late-stage surprises and disappointments. And most importantly, taking the time to properly define the outcome will reduce the likelihood of overlooking that special “pot filler” your customers always wanted but never knew it.

By:  Chuck Schuler | Management Advisory Services

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