Foodservice 2020 Vision

Time flies and change transforms. The year 2020 is now less than five years (or 15 time is moneyquarters) away. This means that an uncertain future is now nearer than the seminal events that defined our past. For instance, we’re now closer to the year 2079 than we are to the end of WWII, and closer to the year 2029 than we are to 9/11/2001. The Year 2020 has a special resonance for futurists and foodservice leaders, probably because the numbers 20/20 are analogous to “perfect vision.” And since we want our foodservice leaders today to be both pathfinders and change masters, we expect them to know how to anticipate what’s on the horizon and to align their companies to shape our future. So to help in your assessment here are a few key 2020 leadership strategies to consider as you begin to define and align your Five Year Plan:

Start with what’s NOT going to change. Consider the endemic challenges that always have and always will impact our business: Labor, Same Store Sales, Customer Service, COGS, Process & Procedure, Training & Development, Site Selection and Marketing. Leverage all the available research, resources, technology and systems that can help minimize the cost and impact of these seven perennial challenges to our people, performance and profit. Pad or tablet menus in FSR (full service restaurants) and ordering kiosks or mobile payments in QSR (quick service restaurants) may reduce our server and order-taker workforce as much as 50% by 2020. That could eliminate 5-9% of our prime costs. But healthcare costs and higher wages may still result in razor-thin margins. Technology may help our industry finally become devoid of inefficiencies, a longstanding goal that has frustrated foodservice operators for over a hundred years.

30 may be the new 20 but 12 is the new 19. Technology has significantly changed childhood and society. And if you really want to understand what the workforce is going to be like in five years, don’t ask a “futurist,” or even a columnist. Ask a Middle School teacher. Want to know what your teams are going to be like in twenty years? Ask a Kindergarten teacher.

Pay in advance in full. A current trend likely to develop is diners at FSR paying in advance for their meals, like buying a ticket for a play or concert or movie, including premium pricing for peak times or guaranteed seating. The smartphone will be the new wallet. Apple Pay is a current harbinger of the new reality. Imagine how mobile payment will integrate and evolve in the next five years.

There are no jobs with a future, only people with a future. When you have great people on your team, despite the cost, despite the effort, great things always happen. In 2020 our industry will be younger, more diverse and brimming over with new ideas and perspectives on how to create value and improve profitability. Many will be more clever (and challenging) than you are. It will be a very exciting time. Re-think now how you train and develop people. Apply the same innovation and technology to training that you do to design, to menus, to marketing, and to process. The defining factor for success in 2020 won’t be resources; it will be resourcefulness. Teach your team how to think instead of just what to do.

Focus on operational excellence and reduce complexity. Make every detail perfect and limit the number of details to perfect. Constantly examine and challenge your process. As Lee Iococca said: “Hold onto the old just as long as it’s good and grab the new just as soon as it’s better.”

Adapt, innovate, continuously improve. Keep an eye on innovation in our industry, and more importantly, research what’s going on in retail and manufacturing relative to marketing, merchandising, training and service. The best practices in foodservice are not usually all that great, so look horizontally, vertically and outside the box for innovation. Be self-competitive. Twice a year, over the next half decade, ask yourself: “If I was the competition, how would I put us out of business?” Or write a press release announcing your company’s bankruptcy. What specific practices, events or situations would be listed that caused your demise?

Connect the dots and reflect lots. The stories we tell about our past shapes our future. Collect and share the anecdotes and origin stories of your brand to inspire a stronger culture. Carve out time in your schedule to think instead of constantly reacting. Assess and fix the mismatch between the important things and what you and your teams spend your time actually doing.

The past and future are great places to visit but you don’t want to live there.The critical thing to know about the future is that it arrives one hour at a time. Get a little better every day and do one specific thing each week to steer your business in the right direction. Make change a part of your team’s routine and make something in your business noticeably better each week. Paint a wall, improve a system, teach someone something new. At the end of each year don’t be 52 improvements behind. Choose your future as opposed to just letting it happen.

Jim Sullivan is the author of the best-selling books Fundamentals and Multiunit Leadership. You can get his training catalog and resources online at and follow him on Twitter @Sullivision.




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