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When Cafeteria Sales Are Flat, It’s Time to Call a Specialist

“It looks like the cafeteria is shorthanded. Do you want to go out to lunch?” “I would have guessed it was not likely that you could ruin eggs, but I was wrong.” Unfortunately, statements commonly heard in the workplace, the school cafeteria, the senior living center, moreover, part of multiple issues related to the growing economy.

With increased demand, forecasting the procurement of supplies and planning for staffing needs remain at the heart of any decision to transition from a self-operated cafeteria to an outsourced foodservice company. No exception is the state of Wisconsin with solid economic growth and low unemployment. Meanwhile, the economy of Madison, the state capital, particularly benefits being the seat of government and the location of the Madison campus of the University of Wisconsin, both providing thousands of good paying jobs.

For contract food services Madison WI the ‘self-op vs. outsourced’ question has increasingly been answered in favor of outsourcing as evidenced by the steady growth in contract foodservice, a multi-billion-dollar industry. Driving that growth rate is the fact that contracted foodservice providers have a sharper focus on customer satisfaction and an instinctive feel for local food preferences. As a typical example of customer satisfaction, regional operators have an advantage over the self-managed local banquet service operator through the assistance of a dedicated upper management team complete with a corporate dietitian. Nowhere is this more relevant than in the Madison area schools subject to regulatory compliance with the federal laws governing school meals. Accordingly, when considering student food allergies and other nutrition questions, contracted foodservice operators utilize the expert advice of their trained dietitians, the self-operated cafeteria not as nimble in responding to changing needs.

Labor and materials, ordinarily, are the two largest cost drivers for any business. Typically, in on-site foodservice, preparation and delivery do not require high levels of staffing. Therefore, absenteeism becomes a major customer service issue for self-operated cafeterias, whereas contracted foodservice operators have contingency plans in place for filling absences. Usually, a foodservice contractor can provide an experienced person from a nearby location replacing vital server personnel or, more importantly, a replacement chef to maintain agreed upon service levels. For self-operated cafeterias materials costs can be unpredictable, that is, foods are primarily perishable items leading to loss through spoilage or donations to food banks. The foodservice contractor, accustomed to a low margin industry, takes responsibility for perishables removing the downside for the client.

Special events, common seasonal celebrations, and company outings are opportunities for socializing and fellowship with co-workers, and the food is a major part of that hospitality. Self-operated foodservice frequently struggles with large-scale events, relying on simple pre-packaged items or expensive offsite banquet rooms. Accordingly, another strength of contract foodservice is experience staging large-scale events, in-house, including event planners and the experienced personnel required for a successful outcome.

In the contract foodservice industry, the oft-used terminology ‘ongoing support’ derives from the continual education and training provided to managers, chefs, and customer-facing personnel ensuring all employees are current with the latest trends.