Restaurants and Food Services
The food service industry is composed of two important parts: operations that prepare and serve food and organizations that produce and distribute the food, equipment, and services that the food providers require.
The establishments that prepare and supply food to customers, such as restaurants, coffee shops, fast food chains, food outlets in hotels, catering firms, and a host of other establishments, have specific methods of preparing and serving food. Each fulfills a vital role in providing alternatives to the hungry consumer. For patrons who want a nice leisurely meal, for example, there are traditional, sit-down restaurants. For those who need to eat in a hurry, fast food provides a good option.
Other food service establishments provide dining accommodations in a variety of settings. A caterer, for example, can provide food in a large hall or in the privacy of a client's home. Hotels can serve food in a banquet hall or in a cozier setting. Hospitals and other institutions often provide food in a cafeteria setting.
The simplest way to describe the work of employees that prepare and serve food is by whether they are front staff or back staff. Employees working in the front of the restaurant are wait staff, host staff, maitre d's, and bartenders. They have the important responsibility of dealing directly with the public. Those in the back of the house are the kitchen staff. The kitchen staff has the equally important responsibility of producing quality food and drinks so that the customers will return. Throughout the food service industry there is a close working relationship between the preparers and the servers that makes the ability to get along with others very important.
It is important that those who work directly with customers have a natural liking and tolerance for the almost infinite variety of customer temperaments. In the food service industry, the customer is almost always considered right because if the customer is not happy, business suffers.
Employees who work in the kitchen, such as dishwashers, salad and sandwich makers, and chefs at different levels, depend a great deal on close teamwork. For example, if the dining room attendant does not sort the dishes properly, the busperson, or busser, may have to do extra work and the servers may not have clean tables ready to seat customers.
Food service usually begins with menu selection. From caterers who are selecting the items for a single evening's affair, to restaurants that are picking specialties that will remain with them for years, the selection of the menu is the single most important factor in distinguishing one facility from another.
A menu is decided by owners, managers, chefs, dietitians, caterers, and others who have a good understanding of the type of food and service they will be offering. The combination of foods is selected for ease in purchase, preparation, variety, nutritional value, and attractiveness. Gourmet restaurants are more likely to select items that require patience, expensive ingredients, and great skill in preparation. Hospital food services focus on nutritional content and dietary concerns. Fast food restaurants are concerned mostly with speed of preparation and cost. Fresh Maine lobster is unlikely to be found in fast food restaurants, for example.
Modern operating methods are becoming essential in today's food service industry. Restaurant companies that have devised systems to maximize labor and cut costs generally prosper. But this does not mean that the food service worker is going to be replaced by machinery. Despite increased automation, the need remains for personal service to customers and skill and imagination in the kitchen.
Cooks, chefs, bakers, and other food preparers are trained to prepare meals. They may be responsible for stocking and purchasing the items, or another staff member may be the buyer. Additionally, they determine kitchen assignments and roles to establish the most efficient method of food preparation. For one kitchen, it may be best to have one chef who makes the main dishes and other heated foods. For another kitchen, it may be better to have a sauce maker, a dessert maker, and an entrée preparer at three different stoves. It is up to the managers and owners to determine the best method of staff and kitchen organization.
The service side of the food industry also is quite varied. Sit-down restaurants rely on servers to take orders, bring food to the table, and assist the customers in ordering from the menu. Fast food restaurants have counter workers that take orders, receive money, and either bag the food or have another helper deliver the food to the customer. Cafeteria-style restaurants allow customers to take food directly from display counters, minimizing the need for wait staff. Clearing the tables of dirty plates may be the only table help hired.
The organization of the staff is determined by the style, size, and service goals of the establishment. The types of restaurants are plentiful. They may fall into one category or they may provide a few types of service. It is not unusual for sit-down restaurants also to offer takeout and delivery of food. Some restaurants have counters and tables. Others offer private, catered banquet facilities. Owners of restaurants take all this into consideration when designing the format of a new eatery.
Chain operations, which have grown in size and number, offer excellent opportunities for success in the food service industry. Chains and franchise operations have certain advantages over individual operations. They may make better use of a menu item, a promotion piece, an equipment arrangement, or a formula for doing things that has been worked out carefully and proven successful. The idea can be transferred to other similar operations without the cost of developing and testing it all over again.
The chain also has the advantage of headquarters specialists, which individual operators usually cannot afford. A small restaurant may not be able to justify the cost of an elaborate advertising campaign or a series of radio and television commercials. Other opportunities in chain organizations are in accounting, in purchasing, and in the supervision of food and food service by dietitians and managers.
Franchise restaurant operations have been growing rapidly and profitably. Their chief appeal is to people who can invest in their own businesses. Franchisees have the advantage of support from nationwide chains, while at the same time they exercise some individual control over food products.
Today's management problems are complicated. Financing is complex, and the required paperwork has multiplied. As in many industries, computers play an increasingly important role in administrative functions. For example, computer programs that help monitor food inventories make it easier to know when to reorder supplies. Computers also are used by wait staff to enter and expedite orders and produce itemized bills.
Purchasing is a specialized function in any sizable food service operation. It involves detailed knowledge of hundreds of food products, their suppliers, and the specifications needed to get the right product at the lowest price.
Those in the food service industry must be alert to changes in society. Now that the population in the United States is aging, more restaurants are catering to older customers. They have introduced senior citizen discounts and special menu choices for such patrons. In addition, the focus on eating well and eating healthy has resulted in a number of health food restaurants entering the market that feature salads and fresh fruits and vegetables. So strong is the urge to watch calories and fat intake that many restaurants are finding it necessary to add light dishes, or entrees with reduced sodium, calories, or fat. Some restaurants also offer choices of portion size to accommodate their patrons' tastes. Ethnic restaurants and restaurants that specialize in particular foods and beverages, such as international coffees, pancakes, or salads, are increasing.
The low pay and demanding hours of the food service industry have created a situation where there is a high turnover rate among employees. This is especially pronounced in the fast food segment of the industry, where it is estimated that as much as 50 percent of the staff will turn over every year.
Equipment suppliers are an integral part of the food service industry. Salespeople are needed to inform food service establishments of the latest ovens, kitchen utensils, and other types of supplies. Food service establishments are able to enlist the latest technology in the age-old quest of providing quality food to customers.
All kinds of sources exist for the restaurant worker to find out about new equipment, new trends, and education opportunities. Magazines, books, seminars, and associations that specialize in every aspect of the food industry are available to anyone interested in learning more about the food service industry.