Real growth continues to be hard to come by for the foodservice industry. In fact, overall customer traffic was flat through the first quarter of 2016, according to The NPD Group, a market research firm covering the foodservice industry. Revenues and customer traffic may be inching along, but one area growing at breakneck speed is labor costs.
A confluence of factors continues to make labor a torrential concern for foodservice operators from all industry segments. Easily the most publicized factor is the fight for increased minimum wage. And the impact of the Affordable Care Act certainly plays a role in rising labor costs.
Other factors continue to make labor a pressing issue for operators of all segments, too. With overall unemployment at roughly 5 percent, the U.S. economy continues to be relatively stable — for now. This is great for restaurants because stable employment creates demand for the products they serve. However, this also creates a conundrum for operators as they now have to compete with other business segments to recruit and retain top talent, which inevitably increases costs.
As foodservice operations have evolved, so too have the skill sets employees must possess to be successful. From the need to provide top-notch customer service to using more sophisticated equipment, the need for skilled labor in foodservice has never been higher.
If you want to find one segment that serves as a microcosm for the labor challenges the foodservice industry faces, look no further than colleges and universities. For the reasons outlined above and a variety of other social influences, many college operators continue to struggle to find qualified labor, as Envision Strategies' Rob White points out.
Colleges continue to learn how to deal with customers who don't necessarily want to consume meals during traditional dayparts or even prefer to eat a series of smaller meals throughout the course of the day. Indeed, the role of foodservice on college campuses is still to provide nourishment, but their roles have evolved to the point where these operators need to do so much more. This shifting paradigm requires a more thoughtful approach that facilitates operational excellence, as Yale's Rafi Taherian discusses in an insightful Q&A.
What will it take for college and university foodservice providers, and other operators for that matter, to be successful in the future? Well, that answer is as diverse as the academic communities that make up this wonderfully dynamic corner of the foodservice industry.
There's a lot the foodservice industry as a whole can learn from college and university foodservice providers. That's why we've dedicated so much coverage to college and university foodservice in this issue. Hopefully, the best practices, examples and perspectives shared will
help prepare you and your business for a successful future.