Phil Kafarakis knows the pandemic has created dire situations for many restaurants. At the same time, he’s also encouraged by the resilience displayed by many operators.
“I think this pandemic gave people an opportunity to be creative,” said Kafarakis, the president of the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA), in a recent interview with The Food Institute.
Kafarakis was reminded of restaurateurs’ ingenuity earlier this month, during the IFMA Chain Operators Exchange (COEX) 2022 event, held in Austin, Texas.
“The [event’s] themes were built around how the intersection of technology, sustainability, and talent come together,” said Kafarakis. “Which was an interesting time to do all this, knowing that we’re all coming back from this pandemic.”
Kafarakis, with more than three decades of food industry experience, broke down the biggest trends currently impacting foodservice, such as:
EVOLVING RESTAURANT FORMATS
Kafarakis, who previously served in an executive role with the National Restaurant Association, said the restaurant of the future will likely feature smaller square footage, but facilities will also feature a blend of other innovations that have been amplified throughout the pandemic.
“I think you’re going to see a move, in the future, to being much more centric to the off-premise environment, and facilitating that just because of the P&L,” Kafarakis said. “But I think you’re also going to see an environment that’s blended, in that there will be an opportunity to sit on-premise, have more communal tables and the engagement that takes place, but also have the opportunity to take (food) out.
“It could also be delivered to you,” he said. “That whole dynamic is transforming what we know traditional foodservice to be.”
INTRODUCTION TO A.I.
At the IFMA COEX event, technology was a main topic of conversation. For instance, Frances Allen, the CEO of Checkers & Rally’s, explained how the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in drive-thrus significantly improved her stores’ efficiency. Earlier this year, Checkers & Rally’s secured a deal to use automated voice ordering for corporate-owned, U.S. drive-thru locations.
“The use of technology has been accelerated,” said Kafarakis. “Frances Allen gave an incredible background on how she used AI at the drive-thru to not only speed up her service and shorten the time at the window [but also] create a back-of-house environment that was so connected.”
Restaurateurs are dealing with no shortage of challenges these days, including inflation and, as Kafarakis put it “supply chain chaos.”
But staffing remains the primary concern for most operators. Fortunately, Kafarakis – who formerly held leadership roles with the likes of Cargill, McCormick, and the Specialty Food Association – has observed operators using proven hiring solutions in recent months.
The key, he noted, is focusing on building a positive workplace culture, providing a thorough onboarding program, and being sensitive to employees’ work/life balance.
“I think we’ve come to a new place where the restaurant community has found out that this notion of happy employees makes tremendous profit and success for the organization,” Kafarakis said, “because the employee is where the rubber meets the road when that staff member engages with the consumer.”