In this special edition of 5 Things, Food Management highlights five things you may have missed recently about developments regarding coronavirus and its impact on onsite dining.
Here’s your list for today:
- Sodexo’s AI-based POS also tabulates nutritional info
Sodexo has implemented an automated, AI (artificial intelligence) based meal tray recognition system called Seefood that not only tabulates prices for the items on the tray and increases checkout speed—down to three seconds from a previous average of 20 seconds—but provides real-time nutrition and calorie information. The system is already operating in several business dining and institutional sites in China and Sodexo is planning to deploy it in its cafeterias in West Europe in the first half of 2021.
- Colleges are turning to outsourcing in more and more areas
Outsourcing to private companies of a variety of functions—even extending to course instruction in some cases—has been growing in the college/university market, accelerated by the financial pressures caused by dwindling enrollment and the effects of the COVID pandemic on campus culture, according to this analysis from the Hechinger Report. While it focuses mostly on other areas where outsourcing is relatively new, the greater openness of institutions to turn to external service providers to take over operating traditionally self-managed functions could also lead to even more outsource pressure for areas like campus dining, where external providers have already established a significant market share foothold.
- The Golden Age of Silicon Valley cafeterias is over
Over the past decade, gourmet—and often heavily subsidized—onsite foodservice had been a hallmark of the tech office culture in California’s Bay Area, to the point that San Francisco had considered banning or restricting new employee cafeterias because they were hurting business for local restaurants. That ended with the coming of the COVID pandemic last spring, when most companies sent their employees home to continue working from offsite, mostly eliminating the need for in-house dining.
Few expect a return to the same levels of workplace attendance even after the crisis passes, meaning onsite foodservice—even when it is still offered—will have to transition to deal with less volume offered through service models that are smaller, more scattered and require fewer employees than the traditional company cafeteria.
- Penn to rely on remote order, takeout, café attendance scheduling this spring
The University of Pennsylvania has announced campus dining strategies for the spring semester that rely heavily on the contactless PennEats app, which is designed to allow students to safely schedule arrival times at residential cafes and order meals offered through Penn Dining’s retail cafés. To support the new dining protocols, which require that all meals be to go, Penn is also providing a micro fridge, a mini-fridge/freezer and a microwave in each on-campus room or suite without a kitchen or kitchenette while apartments with kitchens will also be provided with microwaves.
Read more: Penn Dining spring 2021: Four takeaways
- County looks to subsidize previously self-sustaining school meal program
In a sign of the times that many school district meal programs are experiencing, the commissioners in Williamson County in Tennessee are debating whether to spend $2 million to help out the school district's cafeteria fund. Historically, the fund had been self-sustaining, but meal interruptions caused by COVID-19 has caused the usual revenue to wane even while employees have continued to be paid.
Contact Mike Buzalka at mik[email protected]