This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of Food Management.
When I started in contract food service, all I could think about was how I wanted to make it different. I wanted fresh, restaurant-quality food. I wanted real chefs and amazing local ingredients. When I founded Bon Appétit Management Company, I threw myself into changing the industry because of a deep personal passion for food—one I know many of my peers in contract food service share today.
While the food service industry has changed profoundly over the past 35 years, one needle hasn’t moved enough: The power structure. Across our industry, more than 75% of people in management positions are white. Even if we do not consciously want it this way, studies have shown that organizations can reflect the same structural inequities that exist in society, despite intentions to do the opposite. This really struck me. Despite the best intentions, and policies that explicitly support diversity, equity, and inclusion, companies, including my own, may still be upholding power systems that withhold opportunity.
The time to change the power dynamics in food service industry is long overdue. Again, I want food service to be different. I have come to believe that it is vital to my company’s culture and future to ensure that structural racism is actively dismantled. I believe the same is true for the industry as a whole: It is not enough to not express racism, we must become an anti-racist industry.
What does being anti-racist mean? It means actively working to dismantle systems of racial oppression. This is different from simply being “not racist.” A person or organization who is “not racist” can have views or intentions that do not support racism but are also neutral to or blind in the face of racism or oppression. To some this may seem a subtle distinction but it’s a critical change in attitude and action.
How does this apply to food service? It means looking hard at the power structures that are embedded in our industry and taking active steps to change them.
I don’t have all the answers. Entrenched systems are difficult to break, especially when those in power don’t even see them. Sharing best practices for recognizing ills and increasing equity across the industry is the only way we will truly change the power structures within. I strongly believe this information should be pre-competitive. At Bon Appétit, we are currently focusing on four primary categories of action: disrupting bias, strengthening diversity and equity in hiring and promotions; supplier diversity; and community and communication. We’re also measuring our progress using data analytics tools, which will help us report on our progress and inform future practices. Adopting these ideas more broadly could help us make the industrywide culture shift that is needed.
Work to Disrupt Bias
Research has shown that simple “bias interrupters,” such as a worksheet focused on preventing bias during performance evaluations, can change subtle-but-pervasive forms of bias that are engrained in systems and routines. At Bon Appétit, we are implementing bias interrupters before every performance review.
Evaluate Hiring and Promotion Protocols for Equity
Re-evaluate position requirements to ensure equitable access to opportunities is available. Seek candidates outside the feedback loop of hospitality networks so you don’t simply hire people who have the same experiences and backgrounds as those who are already in your company. Most importantly, identify areas of your business in which you can dedicate monetary and staff resources to train and support candidates who have not had a traditional hospitality or management background but show potential for greatness with appropriate support.
Dedicate Resources to Developing Supplier Diversity
Nearly every company in the food service industry has supplier diversity initiatives, but many of us can do more. Dedicate more resources, such as positions and capital to deepening this commitment. For us, this means building on the success of our forager model, which strengthened our groundbreaking Farm to Fork program and its sister program Locally Crafted. We are designating a Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprise (MWBE) Forager in each region where we operate to proactively seek out new MWBE vendors and walk them through a streamlined process to become Locally Crafted program partners.
Community and Communication
Talk about bias and structural racism. We have started by forming a Diversity and Inclusion Action Council (DIAC) to be an action-oriented advisory group that will provide ideas and feedback to senior leadership. DIAC members are based in our operations across the country and are our human check that our programs and communications are making positive impacts. Our senior leadership is also sending a monthly educational newsletter about disrupting bias to all of our management employees.
I’m ready to change. Are you? As an industry, we need to listen to our BIPOC associates, community leaders, and other organizations who are committed to dismantling structural racism. What have you learned? What can you share? I am calling on my fellow food service leaders to commit to disrupting systemic racism and to sharing their best practices for increasing equity publicly so we can change our industry together.
Fedele Bauccio is co-founder and CEO of Bon Appétit Management Company.