Opinion: You’re Only as Good as Your Last Meal

It's time to stop doing the same thing over and over again

Joseph Chiovera

Growing up in Bayonne, N.J., I have very fond memories of waking up on Sunday mornings or major holidays to the smell of garlic. It meant “sauce” and meatballs were not far behind.

I developed my love for cooking from my mother, Josephine. She was one of four first-generation Italian-American daughters. My grandmother, Pasqualina Carrozza, was a fabulous cook who took care of my grandfather and aunts, as my mom did for us, with home-cooked meals not only on Sundays and holidays, but almost every day of the week.

Without fail and like clockwork my dad, Joe, would say to my mom, “Josephine, it’s the best you’ve ever made,” especially if there was lasagna involved on Christmas or Easter.

I know that meant a lot to my mom, because there is nothing more disappointing than expecting to receive/deliver one thing and getting another—especially if you had to wait six months until your next pan of lasagna.

As I enter my 15th year in c-store foodservice, I draw comparisons between my father’s expectations (as well as my mom’s) and the consumer of “gas station” foodservice. Bottom line: You’re only as good as your last meal.

And how good was the last meal you served?

What burdens the industry today is what has lingered for as long as I can remember: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. That alone is the definition of insanity. In foodservice we are haunted by terms such as spoilage, consistency, guaranteed product, retail accounting, culture and freshness.

“Foodservice is our future”--how many times have you heard that? Along with the fact that everyone is an expert on food. I say that without sarcasm because it is the truth.

Everyone knows what he or she wants. We all have expectations! We need to push manufacturers to engineer products and equipment to fit our functional intent; look at spoilage with reality glasses and not make poor decisions because you continue to view it as a cost rather than an investment; and lead our people to have the discipline to stick to programs and guidelines so that you can begin to nurture a culture of foodservice within your organization as well as with the consumer. Our industry has suffered too long thinking that we can continue down the same road of ineffectiveness just because we refuse to embrace the hard work, change and difficult decisions that come with the food business. Food is different! Food is risk-reward to the max! It is a “service” category. If it were easy, everybody would be doing it well.

So have the discipline to spoil those last hot dogs before they look like beef jerky and replace them with 10 more; discard coffee before it taste like gas and brew a fresh batch for the day-part and size of your store; and properly code fresh offerings not only by microbiological guidelines but also organoleptic standards.

More important, understand that spoilage is OK. Full shelves are needed to build that trust and induce trial by the consumer and, equally as important, belief by your team.

Today’s consumer has a variety of choices available to them, the need for immediate gratification, a short-term memory and a smartphone. Do not make their last meal at your location one they would like to forget. Being on the wrong side of any of these scenarios leaves the consumer with the impression that their last meal really wasn’t that good, and we know what that means. Just look at the past 15 years.

You truly are only as good as your last meal.

Joseph Chiovera is vice president of foodservice for Alimentation Couche-Tard Circle K Stores Inc.