Ten Trends for 2008 (Part 2)

Last month, I listed five of 10 trends that I see affecting the operations of many of our readers and also representing business opportunities for many of them. Here are the other five.

Energy management. This is a topic that is difficult to address in many noncommercial environments because energy costs, while borne by departments as overhead, are often not metered directly. Thus there is often little direct incentive to make the operational changes and equipment purchases to reduce energy use. If every house on a residential block pays an equal share of the block's monthly heating bill, few families would worry much about turning down the thermostat in winter.

At the same time, kitchens and serveries are often significant users of energy, particularly in terms of HVAC and refrigeration systems. That's one reason you see that the facilities management divisions of large contract management companies are increasingly pitching energy management as one more service they can offer an institution in a bundled service package.

It's in the interest of all operators to become more educated about energy costs, management strategies, and payback periods, especially in the context of their own administrative budgets and planning. When a renovation or new construction project is "value engineered" in its final stages, energy efficiency is too often one of the first casualties as first costs are reduced. Be prepared to educate your administration about the importance of thinking for the longer term in this regard.

Succession Planning. This is another longer term trend that has been rising in terms of its priority for many directors and their institutions. It's partly the same trend you see in the overall business economy, as the aging baby boom generation begins to look to retirement (or career shifts to roles with more lifestyle flexibility) and partly a result of the "leaning out" of many organizations, leaving a smaller pool of potential future managers to choose from.

In either case, directors who care about their legacies and about the organizations they've built over the years do well to devote time not only to succession planning, but to the recruitment, grooming and administrative preparations that are necessary to make generational transitions successful. Noncommercial associations could have a much more important role in helping with these preparations and it would be in the self interest of many of them to make this topic one that is addressed in their program planning in coming years.

Mass customization. Just because you're in the business of mass production doesn't mean you can afford to ignore the desire most customers have for some personal service. Finding ways to offer every customer some customization options in the course of providing meal service is a proven strategy for increasing satisfaction and loyalty.

When you see an operation that has developed easy-to-implement food prep and choice options and trained staff to give those choices to customers in the course of service, you will usually find one that is hitting better financials and satisfaction scores than average. Make sure you fall into this group.

Merchandising as a core competency. Onsite operators have talked a lot about becoming more "retail-oriented" over the past decade, yet it is surprising to see how few have developed truly effective systems to ensure that their staffs are well trained in basic merchandising techniques.

This is another area where management companies have raised the bar and where their systems (when well implemented) do a good job of ensuring that well merchandised food displays are a key operational component.

Convenience retailing. We have editorialized many times on this page about the opportunities operators have to build revenue with more effective impulse-buying displays, "mini c-store" operations in cafeterias and the sale of convenience food items. Doing it well requires new thinking in terms of margins, inventory and counter layouts, but the payoff is there. If your check average or sales numbers need a boost, this is a tried and true strategy for helping out.