Saturday, October 10, 2009


Adapting to Changing Times
Dining Insights, Fall 2009

The times they are a-changing
Bob Dylan wrote and sung that back in 1964 in a time of ferment and change. It would have been just as timely if he had introduced it in 2009.

At Clarion Group, we've been changing to keep up with - and get a step or two ahead of - the changes in the economy, in companies, on campuses and in life that have been going on around us, for the benefit of our clients.

Over the course of 2009, we have . . .
  • Redesigned our website,, to provide more information about campus and corporate dining and our organization's capabilities.

  • Launched this blog to provide a forum for everyone interested in on-site food services and opened new pages in Linkedin, Facebook and Plaxo.

  • Developed a Six Sigma-based system for operational and financial evaluations of dining services to more effectively analyze systems, services and financials and create imaginative, effective solutions.

  • Created the "Fresh & Natural" program to bring healthy and sustainable dining to campuses and companies.
Now we've taken a new, big step to broaden our horizons to encompass all the other facilitiees services that interact with dining services. These include conference and event services and management, space and servies reservation systems, audio/visual services and lodging.

Ernie Wilder, who managed all these services at the International Monetary Fund, has joine Clarion to add the expertise we need to effectively consult on these specialties - either as an integrated project covering all dining and facilities servicesor for the separate components.

We worked with Ernie at the IMF and know his capabilities and his potential to add value to clients' facilitiess services.
We're still focused on our traditional capabilities, including outsourcing, vendor negotiations and maagement, systems, operating systems, food quality and service improvements, feasibility studies, concept development and facility design.
What changes will come in 2010? Stay tuned.
- Tom Mac Dermott

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The unseen financial side of the journey from farm to fork
Dining Insights, Summer 2009

The fate of CIT Group, the financial firm that supports some one million small and mid-sized businesses and isn't too big to fail, is still hanging in the balance as of this writing. But its misadventures brought to mind the little-known role similar companies, called "factors," play in getting food from the farm to your fork.

Farmers, both corporate and family, have nothing to sell, and no income, until harvest time. They get by on the profits from the last year's crop and loans, typically from banks, using their land and equipment as security. Food processors, the companies that make sausages and corn flakes, have year 'round income from a steady flow of products.

But what about the folks in the middle, the distributors who deliver the products to your kitchen? They sell to you or your food service contractor on credit. At the end of the month, they send a statement and get paid, hopefully within 30 days. But 30 days end-of-month is 60 days from the first delivery. They have to pay cash on delivery for the products they buy to resell to you and, in some cases, even before their supplier will ship to them.

How do they meet their payrolls, pay overhead costs and buy more products in the meantime? Enter the factor.

When your cafe manager signs for a delivery, the invoice is sold to a factor for immediate cash, usually about 80% of face value. When you pay the invoice, the factor pays the balance to the distributor, minus its fee. The later you pay the bill, the less the distributor receives.

The factor, in turn, borrows from banks and other sources to keep up its cash flow, so it can keep sending that 80% to your distributor. (That's where CIT ran into trouble. Its lenders stopped lending.)

Complications arise along the financial chain when more customers pay late, or don't pay at all. The cost is passed back up the chain, ending up in higher prices to you.

So, when you pay the cashier for lunch in the cafe today, you're not only paying for the food and the labor of the farmer, trucker, chef and other folks who brought you the meal, you're also paying for the complex web of financing that lubricates the whole system.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Fresh & Natural: Clarion's New Plan for Healthy Dining

Dining Insights, Spring 2009

Twenty years ago, college students' favorite meals included fruit and cottage cheese plates, chicken nuggets and chicken chop suey. Today, it's locally-grown fruits and vegetables, crispy garlic-ginger chicken wings and Vietnamese Pho, according to research by national food service contractor Sodexo.

"The biggest change we've seen is in the demand for locally-grown produce and authentic international cuisine that's made to order," says Chef Rob Morasco, Sodexo's senior director of culinary support in the education market.

The idea that healthy dining, combined with their other wellness initiatives, can help employees become more productive has penetrated the corporate world as well.

In 2008, Clarion was asked by a large corporate client to develop a program that "offers menu variety and nutritional food choices that [are] fundamental components of any best-in-class wellness initiative."

The project was the genesis of our new Fresh & Natural approach to planning on-site dining operations. We began with the premise that healthy food promotes healthy people and that healthy people work or study more productively, enjoy life more fully and find their connection to their campus or employer more enjoyable. While a healthy eating program by itself won't guarantee a healthier population, science has shown that when a third or more of daily caloric intake is in unhealthy calories, there is a significant negative impact on the individual.

Fresh & Natural incorporates elements of the Mediterranean Diet, based primarily on vegetables, fruits, fish and meat. We adapt each specific menu to the tastes, customs and preferences of the group for whom we plan the program.

It includes:
  • Developing and implementing imaginative, nutritious meals, prepared from "scratch" using fresh ingredients, locally sourced as possible.
  • Eliminating or minimizing junk food.
  • Using organic and hormone-free foods to the extent practical.
  • Providing nutrition information and education.
  • Reinforcing your initiatives to encourage wellness and a healthy lifestyle.

$1.65 for a Dollar

Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield in western Pennsylvania studied worksite healthy foods and wellness initiatives at companies with a total of 12,000 employees. They said they found a savings of $1.65 for every $1.00 spent on the programs, FoodService Director, an industry magazine reports.

Dining Ini

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sustainability and Food Service

Sustainability in all its many iterations has been embraced enthusiastically by nearly all, if not all, university, college and school communities. It's been less obviously adopted in the corporate world, if only because companies don't have students eager to promote the concept and practice.

In addition to its ecological benefits, sustainability has the potential to reduce costs for those who adopt its procedures. Energy-conserving equipment, utility-usage reduction, more efficient work practices and waste control are all good business, no matter what business you're in.

We're exploring the expanding and evolving world of sustainability and introduced our new "Fresh & Natural" approach to green, healthy dining in the Spring issue of Dining Insights. There also are articles about attracting and retaining customers and other topics involving the world of employee and student dining.

If you don't receive Dining Insights, you can join the 3,000-plus managers, administrators and executives who learn about the workings of on-site food service, outsourcing or "insourcing" their food services, dealing with food service contractors and more.

Just e-mail your name, title and mailing address to We'll be glad to hear from you.

Tom Mac Dermott, FCSI
Clarion Group

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Ecology, Economy Shape On-Site Dining in 2009
But culinary trends, innovations have their place in the new year
Dining Insights, Winter 2009

Layoffs and uncertainty among customers are having an effect on corporate dining services and, to a lesser extent, on campus operations as well.

But all is not gloom and doom. While the recession has focused operators' minds on ways to reduce costs and avoid loss of customers and sales, industry experts see some bright spots in the year ahead. Some trends are in health, nutrition and ecological areas, while new food, taste and preparation trends are emerging.

Making Lemonade

If customers are reducing purchases and bringing food from home -- a trend that began several years ago and shows no sign of relenting -- operators are looking for ways to capture the available dollars. "Value" is the buzzword for accomplishing this.

"To be successful during the present economic downturn and prepare for an eventual recovery, restaurant operators are offering the value customers desire in conjunction with operational improvements that cut costs, without detracting from the dining experience," The National Restaurant Assn. says on its website. The comment applies equally to in-house dining services.

Five dollars (or $4.99) seems to be the magic number in defining "value meals." At Chrysler auto plants, which have seen major layoffs, operator Aramark Corp. "is trying to adjust to economic realities [with] more budget items, such as a meal and a drink for $4.99," company liaison Len Bonner told FoodService Director. A Clarion client that introduced a substantial price incrase in the fall and saw a 25% drop in customer counts is offering a $5.00 daily special to lure back the defectors. Subway, Boston Market and Pizza Hut are offering $5.00 meals, according to Mintel Menu Insights, a market research firm, Food Institute Reports says.

Bold New Flavors

"In the'80s and '90s, we took flavor out of foods to make it low-fat," Nick Carmody, vice president of Parkhurst Dining Services, Pittsburgh, told FSD. "Now, we're putting it back with herbs, spices and oils. The menu mix . . . has lots of vegetables and plant-based foods that allow you to give a lot at value prices."

A concept called "stealth health" has been developed by the Culinary Institute of America, according to Dr. Tim Ryan, president. More ingredients and flavors from Asia, Latin America and the Mediterranean that deliver on both taste and health" are incorporated, he said. "These bold flavors offer both health and increased satiety, so we think the trend will only grow in strength."

"Smoking is the new frying," says "Expect to see comfort food stage a comeback."

Eco/Healthy Trends

"In 2009, we will see healthier menu options with an emphasis on produce and fruit, smaller dishes and fish, and an increase in . . . local and sustainable ingredients," the National Restaurant Assn. said in releasing an October 2008 survey of chefs. "Menus will continue to expand options for health-conscious diners.

"The hottest trends in culinary themes include nutrition/health . . . umami (the fifth taste [actually, MSG] and the slow food movement," the NRA reported. "In preparation techniques, braising tops the list, followed by smoking and sous vide."

The issue of disposable dishes, utensils and containers is being addressed with some new, innovative products that help resolve the problem of overflowing landfills. Vegeware, a fiber-based line of disposable tableware that breaks down naturally, manufactured in Scotland, is being introduced to the U.S. Reverte, a bio-degradable beverage bottle, also is being introduced by Planet Green Bottle Corp. and Northland International.