An Overview of All Things Food Service

What is Food Service?

Food service is a means in which food is served at an establishment that isn't in the home. According to the National Restaurant Association, the industry is the biggest employer in the private sector.

The primary purpose of a food service operation is to serve food. However, other services can be provided at the same time such as entertainment or group accommodations. They can range from a small take-out joint to a large luxurious restaurant.

Regardless of size and status, all of them pay close attention to the purchasing, preparation, and serving of the food to meet the expectations of their consumers.

The Basic Operations of Food Service

Every food service business has procedures to follow for daily operations. A restaurant manager will lay out these guidelines in training. However, each person serving eventually comes up with their own way to proceed while still using the guide as a reference.

Most restaurants have a standard blueprint that is followed regardless of what type of establishment it is. It includes-

1. Greeting the guest

One of the biggest complaints from guests in restaurants is having to wait for service. Guests should be greeted no longer than 2 minutes after they are sat in a restaurant. If it is a walk-up service, they should be greeted immediately. Never let the customer wait.

2. Take the drink and appetizer order
After a quick introduction, servers will ask what the patrons are having to drink. At this time inquiring about starting with appetizers is often added. This allows the guests to feel noticed but they also aren't being rushed for their main food order.

3. Deliver the drinks and answer questions
Once the drinks are put into the POS (point of sale) system they should be dropped off at the table. Some guests will know what hey want to order but others may need more time to decide. Answering questions or making recommendations goes a long way with relating to the customer and making them feel heard.

4. Take food order
When taking the food order ensure all substitutions or dietary needs are accounted for. Sending food back to the kitchen because it wasn't prepared correctly the first time is a hassle for everyone. Some servers come up with a form of short-hand to write orders swiftly and still remember what they were when ringing them up.

5. Deliver the food
Once the food is ready it's important to not let it sit out. A cold or dry dish will get sent back. Once the food is dropped off the server should ask if anything else is needed. Before the main dishes are set out, the table should be cleared of any empty plates and drinks should be refilled.

6. Check in
It's customary to do a check-in with guests to see if everything has been prepared to their liking or if they need anything further. This should be done a few times throughout the course of their meal but not to the point where it becomes overbearing.

7. Ask about dessert
Once the table has finished eating and the empty dishes have been cleared is when dessert orders should be taken. This can also mean just tea or coffee orders. In any event, if the guests request dessert and/or coffee get everything prepared. If not, drop off their bill and thank them for coming to the establishment.

Once the bill is set down at the table a server shouldn't hover or linger. Allow the guests time enough to pay when ready. Once the check is collected, thank the guests once more for coming in and leave them with a positive impression.

Types of Food Service

The types of food service vary, each with individual benefits and challenges.

1. Waiter service

Wait service is the most common form of sit-down service. A server takes the orders of guests at the table, routinely provides continued service, and often takes payment. The service is more personalized than other forms of food service as the diners and wait staff interact throughout the meal. This means the staff should be highly trained and skilled with customer service.

2. Banquet service
Another form of table service, however it is usually a group of 10-12 guests which are served. Dishes are preordered which cuts down on time. This also means the coordination between the kitchen and wait staff needs to be on point as all the food has to be served fresh at the same time.

3. Buffet service
Buffet service is popular in hotels and cruise ships. This style of food service allows guest to choose from a wide selection of food that is offered. Most often, the food is organized by regional cuisine such as Asian, Greek, or Continental. The wait staff at buffets generally only takes beverage orders and clears out dishes.

4. Self-service
Diner pay in advance and pick up their order at the counter. This is a similar design to fast food chains. The staff stays behind the counter and ensures orders are prepared promptly so guests aren't kept waiting.

5. Room service
Most high-end hotels offer a room service option. This is another form of food service where guests can call down to the dining room and place and order that is then brought to their room. Wait staff are used to transport the food from the kitchen up to the rooms. They are trained in presentation of the meal ordered and the layout of the hotel to get up to the room without delay.

What is the Food Service Industry?

In the United States alone, the food service industry is considered the largest employer. That's because there are many businesses that are essential to the preparation and distribution of food products. The food service industry is comprised of distributors, servers, and food service providers. All of these companies share the same goal of providing food products to consumers.

Restaurants, bars, fast food chains, hotels, banquets and buffets are all included in the food service industry. These establishments have a cook or chef prepare the food and it is either presented by a wait staff or, as is the case in buffets, guests gather the food themselves.

Table service is one of the highest grossing of the food service industry. It is common in restaurants and bars where servers take orders and present the food or drink. Another part of the food service industry comes from food distributors. These are the companies which deliver food products to restaurants and grocers.

Food Service Apps

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Nearly everything in today's foodservice industry has an app for it. Popular apps like Urbanspoon and Foursquare are used to find restaurants and make reservations. Some even offer rewards points for loyal customers.

The range of apps is expanding towards the operations side of foodservice. Now is the time restaurant owners should start to take notice of expanding into the use of apps.

  • Mobile Ordering and Reservations
Apps that can blend with the restaurant's current operations can only help to expand brand awareness. By offering an app as a means to order or make reservations it increases customer engagement. Guests have come to enjoy the convenience of online ordering where their food is either delivered to them or ready immediately upon picking it up.

In a recent study, nearly 27% of guests said they would be ordering takeout more while 23% would order more delivery. Having a mobile app in place for these orders puts food service establishments ahead of the curve.
  • Simplify Operations
Restaurant management can be complicated. Having a streamlined process begins and ends with introducing technology. Mobile apps are on the rise for use in all aspects of restaurant operations. From access to product info, updated POS systems, and even calculating food costs, there are apps that can track the information.

Common solutions to foodservice pitfalls are being created through apps every day. Restaurant owners can easily manage all aspects of food safety such as understanding foodborne illnesses and how to prevent them using a digital thermometer with read-outs through an easy access app.

One of the more impressive ways apps have streamlined the foodservice industry is through scheduling apps. Having an app that helps restaurant managers easily manage and share schedules cuts down on confusion. With real-time accessibility, staff members can manage their day-to-day and that of their work lives by being connected even when not onsite.
  • Customized Apps
The beauty of having new technology for food service is that the apps can be customized for the establishment and its needs. This includes prominent branding of logos, taglines, etc. Many mobile apps integrate with websites or social media and give flexibility to an ever-growing online society. Some restaurants and other foodservice businesses have even launched their own apps.

Best Food Service Customer Practices

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Restaurant owners know that customer service is essential to success in the foodservice industry. Customers like to be seen and heard which becomes integral from the time they enter the door to the time they go back out of it. They should be greeted with genuine attention.

This is the way to get returning customers which are also called regulars. The customer goes out not just for the food but for the experience. So, if they enjoy their experience in their chosen restaurant, they're apt to make regular visits and bring others with them when they do. Establishing great customer service practices comes from implementing these ideas-

The 10/5 Rule
The 10 and 5 rule is a guideline used throughout the food service and hospitality industry. It is simple to follow but makes a big impact. Simply stated- when a guest is 10 feet from a staff member they should be acknowledged with a smile and direct eye contact. When the guest is 5 feet away a verbal greeting should be used. If that guest is a regular, greeting them by their name is even better.

No waiting
Diners should never be left to wait to be greeted, seated or served. Once they are forced to wait for extended periods without being acknowledged it can turn their experience into a negative one. At this point, it will be hard to turn their negative experience around regardless of how good the food is. The goal is to accommodate your diners with exactly the same quality food and service at any time of day.

Fix Problems Swiftly
No matter how many steps are in place to create a seamless experience for guests there are bound to be problems. When this happens, it's best to find a way to smooth over the situation immediately. Some tips to do this include-

  • Listen without interrupting.
  • Acknowledge the problem.
  • Stay calm, even if the customer isn't.
  • Maintain eye contact
  • Negotiate a solution that is acceptable to everyone.
  • Always empathize, don't blame.
  • Apologize
  • Solve the problem quickly and without drama.
Incorporate Technology
With the changes in restaurant technology, diners now expect a certain level of technological advancement to be available when they dine out. Which type of technology to incorporate comes down to the type of foodservice business model.

Here are a few options that are popular-

  • Online Ordering- Using an app or going direct off the website to order provides a level of convenience that customers appreciate.
  • Table Ordering- When dining in, having the option to order from the table without waiting for the server also provides a level of convenience and speed that guests enjoy.
  • Free Wi-Fi- These are busy times, and a lot of people take their work with them when dining. Having access to dependable Wi-Fi is a must-have for some diners.
  • Table Games- While adults enjoy versions of electronic casino games at bar tops, it's also a good idea to incorporate kid-friendly games at tables. Parents will be thankful that their children have something to keep their attention.

Innovations in Food Service

In 2020, restaurant operators needed to pivot their business models or risk closing for good. By re-imagining the dynamics of their business with delivery and curbside pickup it allowed them to continue operating even during a difficult time.

Delivery Options

A few years ago, food delivery options were limited. Now, thanks to third party delivery services the choices are endless. On the success of these companies many in the food service industry have branched out and began incorporating their own delivery service methods. Even grocery chains are getting involved with delivery options that brings groceries right to the customers door.

Ghost Kitchens

Ghost kitchens are a business model that provides offsite cooking space to restaurants for a rental fee. It's a way to expand without diving into real estate or renovations.

Workplace Dining

Having a break room at the office isn't new but what is new are the tiny market options that are now springing up. Self-serve refrigerators are stocked daily with grab-and-go fresh food options around the clock. Eat Club is another option for workers to get hot meals delivered to the office. This virtual cafe delivers individually packaged meals so everyone gets to eat what they want.

These services are highly coordinated through a combination of apps, tech, and personalized service, with the idea that employees are more productive, out of the office less, and build a more family-like culture when they eat well, together.

Green Kitchens

Food waste has become an increasing problem facing the food service industry. In the United States alone, 52 million tons of food are sent to landfills annually. Given this information, restaurants and suppliers are coming up with ideas to reduce waste, and re-purpose what can't be used.

From recyclable straws and packaging material the ideas continue to grow in an effort to reduce waste. Companies are even finding new ways to re-purpose waste and turn it into functional ingredients.

The Conclusion to Food Service

  • According to the National Restaurant Association, the industry is the biggest employer in the private sector.
  • In the United States alone, the food service industry is considered the largest employer.
  • Basic guidelines for sit-down service include- greeting the guest; taking the order; answering questions; checking in frequently; and thanking them for coming to the establishment.
  • Restaurant technology is almost expected by consumers to be available. Any food service business should consider incorporating some form of technology.