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Snapshots from the Road More Traveled

Snapshots from the Road More Traveled

Douglas Crane takes a break from the kitchen at Hyde School at Woodstock.
St. Ignatius’ John Pietravoia is extending his servery’s brand with convenience retailing items.

It’s been a long-standing editorial policy of FM that, when editors are traveling for business, they arrange to include side visits to the onsite locations of readers in the area where they happen to be.

Sometimes the visits eventually lead to stories in the magazine, and other times they are just opportunities to get acquainted with someone new. But I’ve always felt the real value of such visits is to keep our impressions of what it means to be an onsite operator, day after day, fresh and rooted in real life experience.

By its nature, most editorial work takes place behind a desk or at a computer. We are journalists, not operators ourselves. It is very easy to slip into a mode where one’s sense of our readership is “virtual,” based mostly on phone calls and emails and news accounts found on the web. Many good ideas come from these kinds of activities, but they do not replace the experience of walking through a kitchen or listening to a supervisor lead a pre-lunch staff meeting.

Foodservice manufacturers who want to ensure their success in onsite market segments encourage the same kinds of visits among their salespeople. The most common question I get from these folks at shows is “What are the trends you see in the market?” But in fact, the trends are there for anyone to see if they take the time to check out operations first hand.

I don’t think I’ve ever paid a reader visit where I didn’t learn something I hadn’t known before. And while a great many business friendships are formed at conferences and other events, these relationships are much more meaningful when they are augmented by a visit to the person in his or her own working environment.

It is also during visits of this sort that one comes to realize onsite foodservice is far more creative and open to innovation than most people think.

Unlike a commercial restaurant, where the menu may only vary because of a daily special or seasonal rotation, onsite restaurants change their menus daily. To see onsite chefs embrace this challenge and meet it with creative solutions is to see a talented chef do what a talented chef does well.

The same goes for special events and promotions, for new station concepts and technology applications, for laborsaving strategies and merchandising executions. To visit onsite operators at their place of business is to see that innovations take place every day, in large ways and small.

Check out what Scott Meyer is doing with cel phone text promotions at the University of Texas-Austin (story on p.18). When we visited his operation a few weeks ago, he was about to end his beta test of this technology with a contract to use it until the Fall semester.

At the other end of the country, we spent a morning earlier this month with Douglas Crane, foodservice director at Hyde School at Woodstock (CT). As one of his efforts to use foodservice to build that school’s sense of student community, he annually gets his customers involved in cooking up batches of customized hot sauce.

John Lawn

The dining program at Hyde emphasizes local sourcing when it’s feasible and Crane grows many of his own peppers for use in these concoctions. After it’s made, he retorts the sauce in bottles in his steamer oven and the students design customized labels for their shares of the batch.

Here in Cleveland, we dropped by St. Ignatius High School on one of the last days before the school’s Christmas break to take a look at the new Marketplace in its recently renovated Rade Dining Hall (see story on p. 38).

There, FSD John Pietravoia is also “bottling his own”—in this case, working with a supplier to pack a line of salad dressings branded to extend the Marketplace concept. It’s a convenience retailing initiative that perfectly complements the new servery. The onsite environment is one where operators have creative freedom, and the best of them exercise it daily.

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