Hotel F&B Observer Blog

Hotel food and beverage professionals share experience, skills and commentary. These hotelier blogs reflect a variety of unique career perspectives and real-life workplace stories, observations and opinions.

Reality Check

Earlier this week I had to present to university juniors & seniors. As I started walking into the lecture hall I started to have one of those clichéd “eureka moments.” While looking at the audience I started to realize that the majority of the students in that room were not even born when I started in this industry some 28 years ago.

After boring the class to tears with my presentation (…humor is not a bad thing) I started to contemplate just how much has changed in this business since the 1980’s.

** Back Then – Being a chef was just considered being a tradesman much like an electrician or plumber.
** Today – Being a chef means being a rock star.

** Back Then – The Mother Sauces.
** Today – Gastriques, Aiolis, Nage (don’t call it broth or bouillon) or no sauce at all.

** Back Then – Braise and/or Poach.
** Today – Sous Vide.

** Back Then – Being an Austrian Chef gave you “street cred”.
** Today – Being a chef covered in tattoos gives you “street cred”.

** Back Then – White chef’s coat, checkered pants and a 2 foot tall chef’s hat.
** Today – Where do I start with this one? Some outfits today look like a three year old had a field day with crayons. Maybe sometime soon our industry will do what the professional sports teams do….have throwback uniform days?

** Back Then – Show Plate, Soup Spoon, Appetizer Fork, Salad Spoon, Salad Fork, Appetizer Knife, Entrée Spoon, Entrée Fork, Entrée Knife, Sauce Knife, Steak Knife, Demi Tasse Spoon, Dessert Fork, Dessert Knife……can I keep going?
** Today – A fork and a knife.

** Back Then – You came out of hospitality school slowly working your way to the top.
** Today – “… I am a recent hospitality school graduate. Out of the starting gate I need a good title, to know I’m on the fast track for getting to the top, I only want to work 40 hours (because of that life balance thing) and I want a lot of money for doing it. Oh, by the way, I don’t do weekends…”

** Back Then – Getting into culinary school required having to work a few years in the industry before being accepted.
** Today – Requirements to be accepted into culinary school include a heartbeat and plenty of money.

** Back Then – Food offerings in a hotel almost a necessary evil.
** Today – Hotel restaurants with their own identity that even attract the locals from outside of the property…..and……generate revenue!

** Back Then – I could run an 8 minute mile.
** Today – …….anyway………next subject.

While some of this is done in jest, a number of people that have been in the hospitality business for years can relate. I will agree that there have been some positive changes over the years. For me, it is just the reality check as to how much has changed in the almost 30 years of being in this business. I’m sure those reading this blog could probably have their own “eureka moments.”
Until Next Time….


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The Small Farmer Conundrum

Through my dealings in Localecopia I have had the pleasure of meeting some amazing local producers. They are proud of the products they grow and would be glad to tell you all about those products if you let them. As with the larger growers, smaller growers are always looking for new avenues to bring their products to market.

For years farmers markets and CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture) have been their only avenues for doing so. While normally sustainable for the small producers, farmers markets always seem to have their ebbs & flows. With the proliferation of markets in more cities local producers have been competing with produce resellers. These are people who buy produce from large distribution houses then turn around and resell the produce at the market. A good amount of this produce is not local and can usually be priced much less than the local products for a multitude of reasons. As time went on small farmers began to seek out other avenues for their products. The search lead to seeking out a place in the supply chain normally reserved for large-scale producers: Retail and Foodservice.

This is where the small farmer hit the proverbial “brick wall.”

For years the traditional supply chain consisted of large producers, large distributors and plenty of end-users. Large producers always spoke in “truckloads” where small producers spoke in “bushels” or “boxes”. Large distributors spoke in “tractor trailers” where small producers spoke in “pick-up trucks.” Small producers were typically built on quality versus quantity. The idea of growing varieties of produce based on how well the products traveled were not part of their vocabulary. Small producers could not achieve the same economies of scale that large producers have always had. It was almost as though you had two groups of individuals doing the same thing but speaking two different languages. Large distributors added additional hurdles with steep insurance requirements and costly third-party audits (While well-intentioned for the purposes of food safety, third-party audits are relied upon more for their “CYA” component than what the real purpose of the audits have always been intended to do…food safety guidelines to protect the ultimate consumer. Most entities requiring third-party audits have never really understood the full undertaking of this process).

The focus for the small farmer was to figure out a way to take what they do and mesh it into what the supply chain has always known. As time passed smaller producers started to make a dent into the supply chain.

Over the last decade aggregators such as Localecopia Marketplace started appearing around the country as a way to assist small farmers. Some forward thinking distributors and buyers began working with these smaller producers and aggregators (i.e. one-off purchases, assistance in obtaining third-party certification, etc.).

With the supply chain being dictated, first & foremost, by the almighty dollar, many have been either slow or unwilling to change. Some distributors are slow to implement changes that cut into their mark-ups. Buyers tend to focus more on price not realizing that they are not always comparing apples-to-apples. Even smaller farmers are not always open to changing the way they have always operated.

In my capacity I am able to see all points of the supply chain. Every participant in the supply chain has the ability to make the process easier for the small farmer. Therein lies the Small Farmer Conundrum: Are ALL the players in the supply chain, including small farmers, willing & ready to change? If so, how do all of the players in the supply chain do their part to incorporate small farmers into the mix so that everyone stands to benefit?


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Adaptable Alfredo

Alfredo sauce might have a reputation as the culinary equivalent of a single-note symphony, but its dimensions are only as limited as a chef’s imagination. Here are some versatile menu ideas for accenting your alfredo in the new Stouffer’s eBook: One Alfredo Sauce 15 Ways

stouffers-one-alfredo-sauce-15-ways-zfs-8218 (dragged)


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My Challenge To Chefs – Move Past “Local Washing”

The chefs surveyed by the NRA ranked “locally grown produce,” as the third hottest trend for 2016, and Freeman & Co. agrees, declared vegetables “the hero of the year.” The hospitality industry wants to continue on this path of focusing on local food production. While this sounds great the difference between the marketing and the reality of local foods being offered by foodservice operations is quite significant.

For operations that are true to form they understand that, yes, offering products from local producers does require a little more work. Local producers do not always have the same economies of scale that large scale producers have. It is not just picking up the phone to your broadline distributor and ordering. Most distributors do not work with smaller farms due to logistics, volumes, pricing and insurances. Broadline distributors are focused on order completion or fill rates. They are focused on filling the truck versus supporting the local producers (not saying there is anything wrong with this…just a different focus). A number of distributors will tell you that they have been buying locally for years. However, what they won’t tell you is that they buy locally this week then buy from another state or country when the pricing is more advantageous to go elsewhere.

A number of foodservice operations love to market their focus on local menus. When you begin to investigate these menus you soon realize that some of these operations are offering a few items that their broadline distributor just happens to be bringing in that week. I tend to term this as “Local Washing.” As we see with Green Washing, it’s more about the marketing effort versus the reality. Believe me, there are plenty of operations guilty of this.

Foodservice operations that are true to form will make the extra effort to source out products, meet their local producers, and understand what goes into producing that local product. These operations will learn about their limitations with the menu. Along the way menu planners / chefs will become very educated about the ingredients they utilize in the creation of their menus. In my mind it is also an attribute that helps separate the real chefs from those with just the title of chef.

As I say to the home consumer, understand that food does not just come from the grocery store. I now say to chefs, understand that food does not just come from the back of a delivery truck. If are going to make the claim then back it up with the effort. Move past “Local Washing”


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Food Safety – Look At The Entire Picture

Unless you have been living in a cave (….and if you do then I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with that..) you have probably seen all of the recent press related to foodborne illnesses. Food safety is what’s trending in most industry circles now.

Organizations like Chipotle, Costco and others are now increasing the scrutiny on the food products (i.e. produce) they are buying. Some of this includes microbial testing, additional food handling checkpoints and other “stop-gap” measures. While the intent of this additional scrutiny would be welcomed news to most, one must consider the entire picture.

We can add all of the protective measures we want to food to minimize the occurrence of foodborne illnesses. The additional due diligence will certainly decrease the prevalence of this. While we can mitigate it, nothing can truly prevent every occurrence of foodborne diseases. With that, there is always a cost to intense scrutiny of food.

As organizations require additional testing / auditing of the foods they procure we will begin to see a few changes. First, additional handling equals additional costs. Who do you think eventually picks up the tab for that? Second, the availability of suppliers will greatly decrease. Smaller to mid-sized operations typically don’t have the ability nor budget to provide all of the documentation / testing sought in this evolving distribution change. This Darwinist approach will eventually lead to a weeding out process of suppliers. Small companies producing incredible products will become even farther removed from the supply chain. Finally, legislation will continue to evolve to keep pace with all of the changes.

To further add to this, imported products do not always have the same rigid requirements that products produced in the United States have (just look at USDA or QCS Organics versus overseas product). U.S. producers are typically held to a much higher standard than their imported counterparts. Now they are being asked to take on an even greater burden.

In closing, the thought of taking additional steps to prevent the prevalence of foodborne disease is in the best interest of the consumer. Nobody can deny that. However, when looking at this new era of food safety, understand the impact of what this will have on you and I. Until next time…


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Seasoned Hospitality Instructors: A Dying Breed

Seasoned Hospitality Instructors: A Dying Breed
Hospitality U. would like to introduce a recent addition to the university staff – Professor John Smith, EdD.

– Professor Smith comes to us with 30 years of teaching experience. His education credentials include a Bachelor of Science in Food Management and a Master of Science in Hospitality Systems Management. His Educational Doctorate Dissertation analyzed technology systems in the foodservice industry. Dr. Smith has co-authored five hospitality articles, has been published 4 times in The Hospitality Chronicles and chaired numerous University Boards.

Pretty impressive educational background for Dr. Smith. However, did you notice what was missing from his impressive resume? Did you notice the one major thing you would expect someone instructing the future generations of hospitality managers to have? How about Real World Experience?

A couple of times I have contemplated going back to school to complete my Doctorate degree. Every school I researched had numerous faculty with very impressive educational curriculum vitae. However, trying to find institutions with professors /instructors with years of industry experience proved to be very difficult.
Universities today are focused primarily on educational background. The new wave of instructors are career students who transition over to career instructors.

While the educational component is important, wouldn’t you think it was important to learn from others who have managed employees, climbed the ranks, and have been immersed in hospitality cultures? This question is coming from someone who has 4 college degrees & 1 university certificate.

Maybe it’s me? While I realize the focus on the doctorate degree is to position yourself in some type of teaching capacity, I still find the idea of being taught by someone who has a fraction of the real world experience a lot of us do, a strange concept.

Hopefully major hospitality universities will not forget the importance of educating students from those who have been there themselves. While I understand the educational requirements placed on the hospitality schools by their overall universities, I would hope that both the universities and hospitality schools within those universities do not minimize the value of true industry experience….regardless of area of study. Hopefully for future students the idea of seasoned hospitality instructors will not be a dying breed. Until next time….


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The Power Of Purchasing Power

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting article about the fast food giant, Wendy’s. They decided to launch a new menu that included Blackberries. While it sounds simple enough, that sourcing endeavor took 3 years and involved more than 30 growers. When implemented, this will have a ripple effect on the Blackberry Market.

While operations like Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Burger King and others may not seem like operations that would have any association to a hotel food and beverage operation, in some cases the decisions they make can and do affect your bottom line.

When you consider that McDonald’s alone feeds over 1% of the world’s population on any given day (roughly 70 million people per day) you are quick to understand how decisions they make impact the economy.

Let us take an example of the Avocado. As a chef you decide to make a new menu featuring the wonderful Avocado. The following month the Avocado becomes trendy so a few fast food / fast casual operations decide to create features as well. From the time your menu rolled out you could realistically see prices for your featured product jump from $5-$20 per case over a relatively short period of time. Depending on your price point, this could break your profitability for that menu.

Some brief points to take from this discussion on The Power Of Purchasing Power are:

• Understand the basics of supply & demand
• Understand how large buyers affect the market
• Understand that the food market includes hotel, restaurants, country clubs, B & I accounts, grocery, C-stores, fast food, fast causal……starting to get the point?
• Realize that purchasing power/volumes, not the prestige or quality level of your operation, dictate pricing. The More You Buy, The More Purchasing Power You Have.
• Most importantly, do the research on the items you place on your menus

Until Next Time…


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2015 Boutique Lifestyle Leadership Symposium

The Boutique Lifestyle Lodging Association (BLLA) is hosting its 2015 Leadership Symposium at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica, California, from October 21-23. The theme this year is “Boutique Inspiration… Independent Spirit… Lifestyle Leadership.”

Hotel F&B‘s President and Publisher, Jeanne Bischoff, will moderate a panel discussion called “Where Does it Come From? The Demand for Local Ingredients” with Geoffrey Sagrans, President of Localecopeia–an organization that connects regional farmers with nearby foodservice operations. Sagrans is also Assistant Director of Materials Management at The Breakers Palm Beach. Additional chef panelists will be announced shortly.

Other panel discussions during the three-day symposium include: Boutique Lifestyle Executives; The Blurring of Brands; Hospitality Tech; Evolving Retail Strategies; Online Travel Agencies and Boutique Hotels; Digital Marketing, Customer-Facing Luxury Product Lines; Boutique Hotel Finance & Development Update; plus much more.

The 2015 BLLA Hospitality Awards gala will also take place during the symposium on October 22. For more information and registration details, visit: http://bit.ly/1LeSQkZ

2015 Boutique Lifestyle Leadership Symposium - Home Page | Online Registration by Cvent (dragged)


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