Back in the day, I volunteered as a candy striper at a local hospital, where limited food options forced me to drink nasty vending-machine coffee during my short breaks.
Fast-forward a few decades and the landscape seems to have changed considerably. Hospitals, like every other nontraditional site, now offer numerous foodservice outlets, each with expansive menus designed to feed every craving and nix every veto vote. The wealth of choices at every turn can be astonishing.
That embarrassment of riches and the question of consumer fatigue became the focus of discussion at one of our recent editorial meetings as we considered some restaurant brands that are beginning to pare down their menus even as others continue to expand theirs. Which strategy is right, we wondered. Is it better to stick to your knitting, as they say, or pique consumer interest with diverse new offerings?
Our debate morphed into a Marketing story that begins on page 1 and reveals how such philosophical musings continue to evade definitive conclusions, even as they evolve over time. The upshot is that consumers seeking both less and more are the winners in a world where culinary sophistication is growing and customization runs rampant.
In the same “what’s old is new again” vein, vending machines are resurfacing as a practical way to bring fresh foods to customers anywhere at any time. In a story that also starts on page 1 and continues in the Business Intel section, we explore the growing number of operators looking to capitalize on fading traditional dayparts and consumer demand for convenience. The sun may have set on Horn & Hardart and nasty coffee, but it’s rising on a new day for vending and the crowds of people lining up to buy cupcakes into the wee hours of the morning.
Another machine, the computer-driven kiosk, is one of the stars in this issue’s special report on operational best practices. Such terminals not only can help to reduce labor costs, but they also can boost check averages and improve customer relations through their ability to impart important information. The report also features new and, surprisingly, low-tech ways to address the age-old problems of increasing speed of service and improving site selection.
Change at the unit level — think hiring, service, training and in-store marketing — also can be achieved in old- fashioned ways, according to Jim Sullivan, who notes that the key lies in getting employees to focus on the probability of success, not the possibility of failure. He outlines ideas to accomplish this in his “People, Performance & Profits” column in the Operations section.
Meanwhile, pasta steals the spotlight in the Food & Beverage section as chefs discuss new methods of preparation for the longtime favorite. In fact, the number of pasta dishes on menus has grown by 14 percent in the past three years as the carbohydrate benefits from its dueling status as a menu item awash in the glow of a modern health halo and one boasting the ancient and weighty cloak of sauce-soaked comfort.
And in his “World Views” column, David Coffer explores the role restaurants can play as the rise of online shopping transforms the retail landscape from one of functional purchases to that of escape and pleasure. That thought makes me smile. Hasn’t shopping always been about escape and pleasure? It just goes to show you that if you’re lucky, what goes around comes around better than ever.
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