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Thinking Beyond the Countertop

Thinking Beyond the Countertop

As I write this, I’m at the annual Society for Foodservice Management National Conference and have just left a session called “A Strategic Approach to Merchandising” that reviewed many of the same issues and trends you can read about in the feature story on merchandising that begins on page 30 of this issue.

Merchandising skills and execution have grown increasingly important in onsite markets in recent years, especially because of their ability to help operators build business in environments where the customer base just isn’t getting any larger. To make up for that, you have to focus on increasing repeat visits and customer satisfaction with the value of your offerings. In both regards, better merchandising is indispensible.

We all know this, and yet there are often many institutional constraints that can impede the ability of operators to merchandise as effectively as they might wish to. One of the SFM panelists, Lenny Condenzio, a principal with Ricca Newmark Design, touched on one of these issues in his remarks this morning.

“You have to ‘think beyond the countertop’ early in the servery design process,” he emphasized. “And you have to get architects, designers and others who have important roles on the design team to share your vision of the role the overall space will play in your ability to merchandise product once you are up and running.”

Merchandising space extends far beyond the immediate countertop.

“Remember—the wall space isyours. The floor space is yours,” Condenzio says. “How you intend to use that space from floor to ceiling must be communicated to the design team early on—or you will find that space used for other purposes.”

That point assumes two things. First, that the foodservice director develop a clear vision and expectations for retail space development well in advance of its actual design and construction. And second, when major renovation or new construction projects are on the drawing board, that the foodservice director will be an active member of the design team that provides input and guidance to architects and others who will be charged with executing the project.

All too often, foodservice is left out of early planning meetings, even though space that is used to prepare and serve food is typically some of the most technically demanding space in a building. It uses more energy per square foot, has to absorb some of the most robust traffic patterns the building will experience, and has to meet more ongoing code requirements than most other spaces.

Also, because foodservice operations typically must be largely self supporting financially, they must be highly efficient in terms of their layouts in order to minimize labor costs, maximize merchandising opportunities and provide the kind of service that will drive repeat business.

When foodservice department management is not involved, almost all of these functional and aesthetic areas are compromised because commercial building design personnel typically do not bring to the table the expertise or vision to create the kind of space today’s highly demanding retail venues require.

I have heard countless “horror stories” from readers of this magazine over the years in which they can document in what is often excruciating detail the additional long-term costs an institution entails because it has not sought adequate input on foodservice space requirements early on in the design process.

This is a subject we will be returning to in the magazine soon, and I encourage anyone from our readership who wants to weigh in on the topic to contact me in the coming weeks with your thoughts on it.

You can reach me at the office at 216-931-9620, or via email at [email protected].

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