The signs are pointing upward for corporate food services, according to two recent surveys of the industry, but not for everyone. The story’s a little different at every company.
Overall, customer counts and the average sales per customers increased in 2012, compared to 2009 at the depth of the recession, according to the 2013 Industry Standards and Benchmark Comparison study conduced by the Society for Hospitality and Foodservice Management. The study found customer counts increased by10.6% and customers were spending 16.5% more for breakfast and 9% more for lunch than in 2009.
The unevenness of the improvement is illustrated in the findings of a separate survey by FoodService Director magazine, where 59% of corporate food service operators reported a 10% increase in sales this year over last, but 29% reported a 10% decrease in sales.
The results reflected the findings of a survey of corporate food service managers conducted earlier in the year by Clarion Group and Food Management magazine, where half of respondents reported sales increased by 5% or more in 2012 over 2011. The other half said sales were flat or declined.
Corporate food service operators have to work harder to achieve these favorable results. Increased employment and price increases alone won’t do it. Operators have to do more to entice recession-conditioned customers back to purchasing their meals in the company café. Every survey on the subject says people are more attuned to the value of their purchases than to just price.
Here are a few suggestions corporate food service operators can use to increase sales and the bottom line:
• Sell the sizzle. Active marketing and promotions via the company intranet, posters and fliers can emphasize periodic "specials." They needn’t be reduced prices, just greater perceived value.
• Special events, promoting a holiday or a new food offering every few weeks will help bring in customers who usually go out for lunch or bring their own to work. If you get them once, you may be able to convert them to regulars.
• Make good use of social media to promote the café. A small restaurant chain in California is using an app to communicate with customers in its limited territory. The same would work for a corporate food service operation.
• A visiting chef from a popular local restaurant almost always attracts a bigger crowd. You can keep them coming by offering your version of the restaurant’s most popular dishes on succeeding days.
• An "action station" where a chef prepares meals to order at the counter as the customer watches is the surest way to convey "fresh" and "healthy" to you customers.
Above all make sure the food you offer is good, service is warm, friendly and prompt and the café is clean and attractive. Combine all these elements and sales and profitability are bound to rise.
About Clarion Group
Clarion Group is an consulting firm that advises companies, professional firms, colleges and universities, independent schools and institutions in the management, operation and improvement of their in-house employee/student food services, catering, conference, lodging and related hospitality services throughout the U.S. and Canada.
For information, contact:
Tom Mac Dermott, FCSI, President
PO Box 158, Kingston, NH 03848-0158
603/642-8011 or TWM@clariongp.com