Penton Restaurant Group Custom Content
Hospitality and communication drive sales, customer loyalty and repeat business.
Customers have changed dramatically in the past decade. Ditto for their dining habits. Instead of relying on three square meals a day, grazing and snacking have blurred the lines between the different day parts.
Healthy snacks—like yogurt, fresh fruit, and portion-controlled picks—are at the front of the sales pack at times of day that previously saw little-to-no traffic.
“Our customers are snacking more now than ever before,” says Julie Stewart, Senior Manager of Foodservice at SAS Institute Inc. in Cary, N.C., where three unmanned micro-markets as well as four full-service cafes serve a population of over 5,000 employees.
Interestingly, consumers’ definition of a snack is shifting. While plenty are still ordering traditional snack items such as French fries, pretzels and fruit, they’re also ordering more items typically considered to be a main meal. For example, burritos, healthy wraps, breakfast sandwiches, and specialty drinks all now fall under the ever-widening snack umbrella—and they’re gaining ground.
As snacking continues to evolve, both commercial and non-commercial operators are revising their customer service strategies to reach customers and educate them about their offerings.
“For years, service was not necessarily the main priority,” says Joe Pawlak, senior vice president at Technomic, in regards to findings from a multi-client study targeted toward the healthcare segment that discovered how short-term and long-term care facilities, as well as senior living communities, are becoming more consumer-centric. “Today, success depends on your customers and making sure their needs are not only met, but exceeded.”
Customer service in the healthcare segment will play an especially critical role in the future as Pawlak reports this $13 billion segment of the industry will grow by $5 billion over the next 5 years.
“It’s the fastest growing segment of foodservice,” he says. “As the population continues to age, the need will only continue to grow. And foodservice is poised to grow significantly.”
Senior living in particular will grow 8.9% annually through 2020, reports Pawlak. “This arm of foodservice is now focused on improving satisfaction, being on trend with what customers want and paying attention to dietary needs,” he says.
For all segments of the healthcare industry, customer service means evolving alongside the customer.
At SAS, customer service means interacting with guests in the medium of their choice. Menus and offerings are promoted on the company’s dining site so that employees can log on to see what’s available, where and when. This is especially valuable in the case of SAS’s Food-To-Go micro-markets, since there aren’t foodservice staff members readily available to answer questions.
“Customer service hinges on keeping the lines of communication open,” says Stewart.
At McDonald’s USA, customer service hinges on responding to customer requests in thoughtful and meaningful ways.
In April, the golden arches responded to its customer’s desires for a great tasting grilled chicken filet prepared with simple ingredients customers would recognize from their own kitchens (like parsley, garlic and salt). Dubbed Artisan Grilled Chicken, the new product rolled out across all McDonald’s U.S. restaurants replacing all grilled chicken applications including in the ever-popular Snack Wraps.
At Merck & Co., Inc. (White House Station, N.J.), customer service means elevating the guest experience through well-informed and knowledgeable staff that go above and beyond to make each guest feel special.
“Exceptional customer service can help drive sales in many areas,” says Rob Gebhardt, manager of dining and hospitality services at JLL, which handles portfolio management for Merck. “First it ensures repeat business as customers recognize and appreciate higher service levels. Second, it can draw in new business as word of the service level spreads. Third, a well-informed and engaging staff can also upsell food selections just by being present in the retail space.”
At Merck, nuts and dried fruits continue to drive most of the healthy snack sales. But to introduce customers to new offerings, Gebhardt and his team provide samples and also incorporate some of the new ingredients into menu items and catering packages.
“We will continue to gather feedback through direct contact with our customers,” says Gebhardt. “We’ll continue to hire quality associates and make meaningful and timely changes so that customers can come to expect an elevate experience.”
Customer Service at My Fit Foods, an Austin, Texas-based healthful-meals concept, which has 50 locations in five states, means understanding the goals of every customer who walks through the door and working with them to fit healthy living into their life.
“Customer service drives every decision we make,” says Brian Wei, My Fit Foods Brand Manager. “From having Nutrition Coaches in every store providing free nutrition consultations, to innovating on new meals that our customers will love.”
My Fit Foods carries a variety of healthy and balanced packaged food snacks, as well as some house-made offerings.
“We are particularly proud of our in-house made snacks such as our Picnic Time and Chicken Fruit Bowl,” says Wei. “Each snack has been designed to keep energy levels high in between the Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner eating occasions.”
Beyond offering high quality products, My Fit Foods hangs the success of these and other offerings on front-line staff who are the central element in their sales strategy.
“Our customers are very engaged, often times texting back and forth with our nutrition coaches or knowing our General Managers by name,” says Wei. “Our team gets very invested in the healthy habits of our customers and that attitude often gets mutually reciprocated by our customers.”
The bottom line is simple whether your focused on increased snack sales or just looking to drive overall business and engagement—service must be one of your top priorities.