Foodservice is of increasing strategic importance as a differentiator for many hospitality businesses, and as a management subject it is core in all hospitality degrees. A crisis like COVID-19, however, demands alterations to course content because the effects of this and similar future crises are expected to have drastic and long-lasting effects. COVID-19 has been particularly damaging because it did not result from core business activities going wrong, but was a sudden and exogenous shock for which it was impossible to prepare (Hällgren, Reuleau & De Rond, 2018). Nevertheless, looking forward, adjustments can be made to the field of foodservice in order to better educate the industry’s future leaders.
De-emphasizing technical solutions to operational challenges
Much of the content that has provided the foundation for foodservice management courses has been rooted in a hotel fine-dining culture (Wood, 2007). It has simply been assumed that the high-touch business model of dining will not be challenged and, therefore, much of the content has focused on technical topics like food cost calculation or menu engineering within this high-touch fine-dining culture.
However, COVID-19 has harshly challenged this assumption, and future pandemics may require even more severe lockdowns, prohibiting people from shopping for groceries because of the risks of infection. In such a scenario, food production must be outsourced, at least temporarily, to protectable and safe kitchens like central production units of airline caterers. Such a scenario demands a deemphasis of technical topics in order to focus more on the exploration of alternative business models of dining or creative solutions to manage the physical provider-customer interaction. Technical solutions for table booking, check-in, ordering and paying exist and they work, but there is no technology available that can replace the social engagement with the expert staff if physical distancing measures prevail or become even stricter in the future.
Emphasizing systems and design thinking
Consequently, higher-level systems thinking needs to be emphasized. Operational topics like hygiene and safety have become even more centerstage in food services, but these topics have to be systematically embedded into discourses about foodservice systems, highlighting, for example, the importance of digitalizing HACCP routines and automating HACCP measurements for better control.
Thus, a greater importance needs to be given to process management and design thinking, so that students can better comprehend how a systemic understanding of business can bring about new solutions to constraints imposed by crises. For example, a recent study has shown how a designer’s attitude toward constraints differs from conventional management thinking (Stierand, Heelein & Mainemelis, 2020), inviting the idea to expose students to designers in order to provide them with the opportunity to learn first-hand how a designer’s sensibility plays a significant role in matching the needs of the users with what is technically possible and strategically reasonable, thereby shaping the processes and design.
Incorporating creativity and aesthetics
For this higher-level systems thinking to be embodied by hospitality students, it is necessary to introduce them to and develop their culinary creativity, “the ability to produce novel and appropriate work within gastronomy” (Stierand, 2020: 296). This can partly be achieved by exposing them to the broader field of the social sciences, allowing them to focus on relationships between their life experiences and various theoretical concepts (Morrison & O’Mahony, 2003) and, partly, by making creativity tangible for them. This tangibility is possible by teaching students to inquire about design and systems philosophically through the notion of aesthetics, a subject that is not only of rich scholarly interest but also immediate practical value.
The Prince’s Foundation, for example, discovered that when social housing is aesthetically pleasing, less repair is required because people seem to take better care of the buildings (Stierand, 2020). In other words, aesthetically pleasing experiences are identity-building and this is a vitally important topic in times when the need for physical distance may jeopardize our sense of belonging. It is high time that we introduce this knowledge in the foodservice curriculum and hospitality degrees more generally, because students will have to deal with yet unimaginable questions.
Hällgren, M., Rouleau, L., & De Rond, M. 2018. A matter of life or death: How extreme context research matters for management and organization studies. Academy of Management Annals, 12(1), 111-153.
Morrison, A. & O'Mahony, B. (2003). The liberation of hospitality management education. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, 15(1), 38-44.