As businesses reopen across the U.S. during the coronavirus pandemic, foodservice will look very different. “We're making a lot of changes as part of our return-to-work campaign called Rise with Sodexo,” says Carlos Linares, senior vice president for Sodexo North America, which serves 13,500 client sites within Business & Industry, Defense, Energy & Resources, Government, Healthcare, Schools, Seniors, Sports & Leisure and Universities segments. “We’re adjusting to trends that would honor social distancing and limit person-to-person contact as much as possible.” While each concept will adapt to the specific needs of its customers, location and service layout, some changes will trend across all types, according to Linares.
“Right now, there are two things that we’re looking at as we prepare for businesses to reopen. One is we’re going to need some time for the supply chains to adjust,” says Linares. During the initial closures, supply chain volume shifted from foodservice to retail and it’s going to take some time to adjust back. “We’re expecting some excess with some items and a shortage in others,” he says.
The other current focus is on how to forecast the volumes needed in each segment as locations reopen. “For Corporate Services, for example, we're expecting 50% to 70% of business in the first month of opening,” he says. As supply chain and volumes stay in flux, menus will change accordingly.
“We’re working on what we’re calling ‘recovery’ or ‘comeback’ menus,” he says. These will not only reflect ebbs in supply and demand but also a shift in purchase drivers. “We expect consumers to now want more familiarity and comfort in terms of the food and the products,” he says. At the same time, customers also want menus with a focus on health and wellness as well as those that offer value as the economy has taken a downturn.
To balance those key drivers, Sodexo has come up entrees such as turkey meatloaf with whipped parsnips and honey mustard glazed Brussels sprouts, which is both comforting and good for you, and harvest butternut squash soup, which uses the squash in place of cream to achieve a rich flavor.
“We're also expecting consumers to avoid self-service stations such as the traditional salad bar,” he says. “Salad bars have been such a comfort and wellness standard in our client sites but obviously these will not be seen for a long time.” Instead, Sodexo has created a made-to-order salad bar where guests can order their salads with all the ingredients they want and either pick it up or have it delivered.
All client sites will shift from on-premise dining to pickup and delivery, Linares says. Sites will have multiple pickup areas or pickup stations throughout the building to promote social distancing and prevent congregation in common spaces like dining rooms or cafeterias. Sodexo will also create more mini markets and expand retail stores at client sites.
“Minimum contact during foodservice is key,” he says, “and we also want to make sure customers know about ways to order and pay online or with their phones.” Sodexo is also scaling up their Meals-to-Go and Grocery-to-Go programs so that employees can purchase meals to eat at home.
With the reopenings, Sodexo is preparing for labor challenges as staff have been away from their positions for months. “We expect a longer onboarding process to retrain staff and will have simpler-to-prepare recipes to alleviate some of this pressure,” he says. There will also be new training on pandemic-related safety guidance.
“We just launched our Six Foot Kitchen Training Program, which focuses on reinforcing long-standing safety behaviors while also introducing new practices and behaviors to secure a safe kitchen environment,” he says. It covers topics such as personal hygiene, personal protective equipment (PPE), cleaning of contact surfaces, accepting deliveries, food storage and food production.
Sodexo will also provide learning toolkits with guidance and resources to the chef or kitchen manager to enable effective training, with the flexibility to deliver individual lessons in small bites during the workday, or as a larger learning event. “Comprehension checks will be given at end of each section to quiz the learners, and additional resources are provided to help the team communicate safe behavior, with signage and advisories to reinforce messages,” says Linares. “It was specifically developed by the Culinary Training team supported by the Health, Safety & Environment department to support our back-of-the-house teams during the COVID-19 pandemic.”