Category: The New Normal

The COVID Response from the Pittsburgh Service Industry
30- Sep2020
Posted By: Colleen Geyer

The COVID Response from the Pittsburgh Service Industry

With all that has been going on over the past few months, one thing is clear; everything is dependent on how you respond to the pandemic. That remains true for the countless bars and restaurants across the U.S., including right here in my hometown of Pittsburgh, PA. Like many cities, the local restaurants have been rethinking their model in order to stay afloat. Many of them have been compliant with the restrictions put in place, and many have not. Some have adopted a new normal, some have been shut down by the Health Department, and some have permanently closed. But it was what I saw the community doing as a whole that caught my eye.

It has honestly been both exciting and humbling to see so many of Pittsburgh’s best and brightest restaurateurs reevaluating, re-imagining, rebranding and truly reinventing their restaurants in order to remain open through the COVID crisis. Restructuring existing service models quickly became a collective effort with social media groups and virtual group calls of local restaurant leaders popping up all over the place. This became an easy and ongoing way to share ideas, best practices, updates, and most importantly accountability. There were consistent asks from these groups to other restaurants to follow state and county restrictions to protect the Pittsburgh community as a whole. It became very clear that a majority of our restaurants were genuinely putting in the effort to keep their staff and patrons safe.

In addition to the individual efforts I’ve seen, such as those listed above, groups like Safe Service Allegheny have also been established. Safe Service Allegheny is a collaborative partnership effort between the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association, Allegheny County Health Department and the service-industry led Safe Service PGH and has become an invaluable resource for restaurants. This alliance has reinforced a positive approach to following guidelines (in opposition to other coalitions that have formed to openly defy the Governor’s orders). Pittsburgh has seen a definitive decrease in bar and restaurant-contracted cases over the past several weeks according to the Health Department.

All of these outlets I have mentioned; social media, Safe Service Allegheny, the Health Department, plus frequently published media such as Pittsburgh Magazine and local news, have really become the bridge between restaurants and their patrons. The heightened awareness of public information on which establishments are following safety restrictions and which are not, is vital to how Pittsburgh is dining. While it has been difficult at times to serve Pittsburghers safely, and in return, support our restaurants when they need it most, I hope to continue to see this genuine concern for public safety and mutual respect from the restaurant industry continue long beyond the days of COVID-19. I can’t speak highly enough of this industry that shaped me. I have immense respect for those who are putting their health at risk in order to continue to serve this community safely and simply keep their jobs and/or keep their doors open. So whether you are a fellow Pittsburgher or you live far away from the city of bridges, please support your local restaurants and make sure you are doing as much to protect them as they are doing to protect you- because if it’s anything like the Burgh, they’re doing everything they can… and then some.



Strategies for Re-Opening Your Corporate Café
20- May2020
Posted By: Connor Leahy

JGL WEBINAR: The Next Normal – Strategies for Re-Opening Your Corporate Café

As the United States begins to reopen for business in the coming weeks, many of our B&I clients are still looking at how best to balance the safety of their employees while still keeping the on-site F&B operations as successful as possible. Expert panelists representing F&B clients, F&B providers and kitchen designers join the JGL team to discuss best practices and look to what the future of the B&I café might look like in the coming years and months.

Our goal is to provide valuable information to our viewers and hope that each and every one of you will be able to put in place these tools as the workforce returns to the office. We welcome you to watch the webinar in its entirety or skip around as you see fit. If you have any further questions after watching the webinar, we are more than happy to have a conversation with you. Feel free to contact Tracy Lawler at

Topics Include:

  • Low- and high-tech solutions to health and safety concerns as employees return to the café (0:00)
  • New operational requirements and considerations (29:56)
  • The ongoing use of pantries (32:19)
  • Catering in the short and long term (40:10)
  • Financial expectations and alternate revenue streams (44:42)


The Next Normal – Strategies for Re-Opening Your Corporate Café Webinar Recording

Re-Opening Your Corporate Cafe
06- May2020
Posted By: Connor Leahy

Re-Opening Your Corporate Cafe

After two months of working from home, many businesses are looking at re-opening their offices and employee cafeterias. Corporations and food service operators are developing comprehensive COVID plans to minimize employee exposure and maintain social distancing as much as possible. While these plans are commendable, the plans will only be effective if they are well integrated. If I were an associate working in one of the thousands of offices nationwide, I would be asking, “Is it safe to return to the café? What is my company doing to keep me safe?” After speaking with clients and food service providers throughout the country, we’ve created a short list of potential solutions that clients and their operators should be talking about in order to minimize COVID exposure in employee cafeterias.

  1. Pre-ordering and pre-payment: Now more than ever, ordering one’s food online or via their cell phone is a necessary feature for employee cafeterias. It is relatively easy to implement, increases sales, and reduces lines during peak times. In our COVID world, it also means masses of people won’t be queuing at the cash register to order. Minimal contact between cafeteria employees and customers will further reduce the risk of exposure.
  2. Self-serve kiosks: Another fairly standard feature seen in many cafeterias today, self-serve kiosks serve much the same purpose as pre-ordering. Increased sales, reduced lines at peak times and reduced contact between cafeteria employees and customers makes it an obvious choice. A hand sanitizer dispenser or sanitizing wipes placed nearby will help ensure the kiosk itself doesn’t become a hazard.
  3. Reservation times: Whether people will be sitting down to lunch in the cafeteria or taking it back to their desks, the cafeteria represents one of the most prominent dwelling areas in any office. The lunch rush often brings dozens or even hundreds in close proximity with each other. Reservation times to enter the café severely mitigates this risk. Ten- or fifteen-minute slots should be more than enough time to place an order and receive their food. For anybody looking to sit in the café, separate seating reservations may be required for longer dwell times. This measure will significantly help in “thinning out” the lunch rush.
  4. Anti-microbial keys: I personally think this is a must for everybody working in an office. Anti-microbial keys are typically made of brass because of its inherent antibacterial and antiviral properties. They will typically have touch-screen capabilities at one end so they can be used safely on shared screens for ordering at kiosk stations, mobile phones, or to sign credit card machines. Treat these like a second form of ID; all employees are required to have it on them at all times. Handed out to every employee upon their return to the office, these can effectively eliminate the need to touch germ-carrying surfaces in the café. You can check it out here:
  5. Employee communication: It is not enough to institute one or all these measures without adequately explaining them to employees. People will undoubtedly be scared to return to their places of work; the best antidote for that fear is information. Introductory videos (imagine your on-boarding process) sent to employees the week before their return, “welcome back” gift baskets with the anti-microbial key and important guidelines for minimizing exposure, and large, conveniently placed signage throughout the building and cafeteria should all be under consideration.
  6. Phased menu development: The only thing we are certain of right now is that once businesses start to re-open, it will happen in phases. It makes sense to alter menu offerings and service style based on this approach. Obviously, during the initial re-opening period, grab and go and pre-packaged offerings will be a stronger choice as opposed to self-service buffets.
  7. Design: If a salad bar is the main focal point of your café, start talking with your food service partner about alternate uses for this real estate. Perhaps this space can become a holding area for pre-ordered lunches, maybe the café doesn’t open completely, but a table is set up at the front doors so that guests can come by and pick up their completed orders.
  8. Integrated health & wellness apps: Several companies make comprehensive health and wellness apps that can track and notify managers if employees display potential symptoms or fevers. Coupled with manual temperature checks at the beginning of every day, it can help food service managers determine who is able to work and interact with customers and who should be sent home. You can check out an example of this here:

This short list is just a few of the many possible solutions being considered by offices that are getting ready to open their doors in the coming weeks. The most important factor in reopening employee cafeterias is communication with your food service partner. Sharing ideas, potential best practices and logistical challenges with each other before service resumes will help minimize risks and foresee logistical challenges before they occur. The reopening of offices and food service programs may get off to a rocky start, but a concerted effort to implement meaningful changes by both parties will reflect in employee’s gradual willingness to eat at the café once again. It may not have the hustle and bustle it once did in the pre-COVID era, but it will remain an important amenity in office life nationwide.

For more information about how peer organizations are preparing to re-open their corporate cafeterias, use the link below to join JGL on May 18, 2020 at 1pm for “The Next Normal – Strategies for Re-Opening Your Café”. Space will be limited so sign up ASAP!

The Evolution of Foodservice Technology
21- Apr2020
Posted By: David McCallum

The Evolution of Foodservice Technology

The role of technology in the hospitality industry has been hotly contested for some time. While inventory and data management systems have become commonplace because of their ability to quickly and easily cross reference disparate sources of information, other technologies that could potentially take the place of human workers have seen slower adoption rates; however, a confluence of events over the past several years has led to changing attitudes around technology solutions.

The most significant shift in attitude has come as a result of people’s overall comfort with ordering food and beverage through apps and online, mostly for home delivery. As $15 minimum wage initiatives began to sweep across the country and large markets such as San Francisco lurched into an industry labor crisis, business owners turned to tech in an effort to decrease labor costs and improve efficiency. In recent years, various sectors of business have increasingly embraced technology as a way to help speed service in food outlets while increasing customization, participation, and even promote health tracking initiatives. Looking to the future, industry insiders and many of JGL’s clients have already started to discuss the “new normal” and what role contactless technologies will play when social distancing is relaxed and outlets reopen.

In this blog, we will lay out some of the most common guest facing technologies currently in use across multiple business sectors, as well as some up and coming initiatives that JGL is particularly excited about. There are also many interesting back of house and sustainability focused initiatives in the works, but alas, those are for another blog.

The Common

There are a handful of technologies that are now commonplace, especially in both the B&I and Cultural markets. These are the systems that you should have in operation now if your campus has an F&B program which services anywhere upwards of 100 guests per day. You should have a website with separate pages dedicated for both retail food and catering. Your F&B provider should ideally control these pages and be responsible for updating them regularly. These pages should be easy to find from the site’s primary landing page. Café and catering menus should always be up to date, and event rental pages should feature professional photos of events in progress, as well as information such as dimensions of spaces, amenities, and capacity limits. Many Operators, especially those who specialize in B&I, have also built proprietary health and wellness interconnectivity between their online systems and culinary operations, including nutritional data and meal planning, educational tools, habit training programs, and even access to company dieticians.

Digital signage has also become universal in both B&I and Cultural accounts. Digital signage is frequently tied into a central computer system so that it can be updated easily on a daily basis, though systems that work over Wi-Fi or even with a flash drive are also prevalent. In addition to aesthetic benefits, digital signage reduces service times by helping guests to make decisions before they get to the front of the line.

Desktop and app-based pre-order options are quite customary and becoming more so every day. Patrons will place and pay for their orders on their computers or phones, then pick them up from a pre-determined location to avoid long wait times. While there are many cultural institutions which use pre-order for guests, they are particularly popular with staff populations across all sectors of business. Self-order kiosks and self-pay stations are becoming popular as a way to reduce labor costs and/or to supplement traditional cashiers during peak visitation times. Guests typically either order their food from the kiosk and pick it up when a digital sign tells them it is ready, or in some cases, they take a number to display on their table and their order is brought to them, though this scenario can require significantly more labor needs on the part of the Operator and therefore higher costs.

These systems are the base level of current tech offerings and most Operators should be utilizing them now. If yours is not, you should talk with them about the benefits of investing in such systems or pursue such investment in your next RFP process.

Food Service Consultants - Technology

Less Common

Now we look at some systems which are currently in circulation but are far less prevalent and perhaps only applicable in specific situations.

In some high-volume locations such as science museums, enterprising Operators are utilizing tray scanning technology. A guest moves through the line and places their selected items on a tray, then places the tray under a self-checkout device which scans the entire tray at once and charges the guest accordingly, significantly decreasing checkout time and through put of the servery.

An issue common to many of our client’s B&I call centers is that employees commonly have only 30-minute lunch breaks and limited budgets, so they don’t have the time or financial resources to order take-out or wait in a busy café line. Some locations are currently running pilot programs using food locker systems placed strategically around office buildings. Employees can pre-order their meal and when their break begins, go to a locker number which they have been given, enter a code and retrieve their meal. Another system in testing for these offices uses a refrigerated case which has pressure sensitive pads under each item, similar to a hotel mini bar. Items are stocked and an employee scans their badge or enters a code to open the unit, then is charged for whatever is removed. Unlike traditional vending machines, such a system has the expanded capability to offer freshly made, temperature controlled full meals.

Even for more traditional vending options, new technologies are enhancing guest experience. Electronic sensors monitor inventory and send a notification to restock the machine before items run out. Many machines can also display nutritional information.

I for one welcome our robot overlords, especially when they make me lunch. Robot vending is starting to make its way into accounts with customizable salad or liquid nitrogen ice cream making machines in relatively wide circulation. Proprietary systems that roast, grind and brew coffee one cup at a time are in use, while the utilization of robot food delivery drones is becoming more common on college campuses. Food grade 3D printing is also being used in select locations, from 3D sugar sculptures used as garnish to pancakes in the shape of dinosaurs.  I just want to say that one more time. Dinosaur pancakes are a thing.


Now we look ahead to what could be the next big tech developments in F&B. One of the biggest hurdles faced by many Cultural institutions, which are notoriously averse to copious signage, is wayfinding. JGL often recommends that cafes are placed as close to the front entrance of a new building as possible so that they have maximum visibility. Food service outlets located deeper within a structure often suffer from lack of foot traffic and little or no directional signage guiding guests to them. The more expansive the building, the bigger a problem this can be, especially at botanical gardens and large museums with confusing layouts. Several tech firms are currently working on GPS based systems which will allow patrons to use turn by turn directions on their phones to locate outlets within larger structures. Such systems will, hopefully, eventually be integrated into the organization’s proprietary app so that a guest could open the app, search for dining options, then be led directly to the outlet with GPS directions. Though JGL is aware of several such systems in development, we have not seen any in use at this time.

One of the most exciting examples of burgeoning foodservice-oriented tech that JGL has seen revolves around RFID technology which uses radio waves to track tagged items. We have seen a very limited application of hybrid-service models where a guest orders from a counter and is given a small plastic RFID tag, then is free to seat themselves anywhere in the designated seating area. RFID readers mounted in the ceiling display on the server’s screen where in the room each RFID tag is located so that the server can find each guest quickly and easily, even if they move around several times. An even more ambitious version of this system is also in development involving kiosk ordering. With this version, the RFID tag is printed on the guest’s receipt, so no plastic tag is necessary. This technology has the potential to embrace the benefit of cooking and delivering food to order without the dramatic increase in staff necessary for the traditional model of constantly circling a seating area looking for plastic number signs.

When food and beverage operations come back online, they will face a brand-new set of challenges. The traditional pressures of moving people through food outlets quickly while delivering quality offerings will compound with new challenges of trying to do all of this with minimal intrapersonal contact. Existing and new technologies are likely to be part of the solution to these issues. If you, like many of our clients, are feeling overwhelmed trying to formulate a comprehensive new food and beverage strategy before your facility reopens, we are hard at work and ready to help.

Peabody Essex Museum Food Service Consultant
13- Apr2020

Finding the New Normal in the Event Industry: How acting now can help your business in the future

JGL hosted a webinar on Friday, April 10, 2020 with a panel of experts to address how the event rental business is trending currently, what can be done now to help facilitate a positive sales process and what do catering and venue professionals need to be thinking about for the future.


• Jan DeMarzo, VP of Development, Neuman’s Kitchen
• Natalia Laskaris, Director of Rental Events and Catering Services, Peabody Essex Museum
• Adelee Cabrera, VP of Operations, Constellation Culinary
• Robert Severini, Director of Events & Catering, Wildlife Conservation Society

JGL Team:

• Tracy Lawler, President
• Brooke Botwinick, Senior Associate
• Colleen Geyer, Junior Associate

Tracy opened the Webinar with some statistics from a recent Wedding Report survey:

1. 28% of couples are postponing to later in 2020, most of these are coming from April, May, June weddings.
2. 22.5% are moving to 2021, these are from April to December
3. 6.5% are cancelling altogether, most these are coming from April and May
4. 43% are holding the date

JGL asked each panelist to address the following questions:

1. What types of inquiries are you getting? What type of business is booking?
2. Have you noticed any changes in the needs of social clients? In the needs of corporate clients?
3. Has your marketing strategy changed in the short term? Do you anticipate longer term changes?
4. How do you expect events to change after we re-open?
5. Do you have two or three top tips that have been helpful to you in booking or retaining events?

To view the webinar, please click the link below:

http://JGL Webinar Recording: Finding the New Normal in the Event Industry

Top takeaways from the conversation:

• We are all in this together.

• Virtual tours are helping venues continue to book events.

• As in the 2008 economic downturn, the social market is seeing the most activity and booking while corporate and gala markets are very limited.

• Event professionals have more time now to focus on staying connected to their client base through social media.

• This is a great time to update your website, review your contract and clean up your CRM.

• Consider relaxing rental policies for the balance of 2020; this might include allowing ceremonies on site or select fundraisers.

• Making clients feel secure about booking will be the key to success – following CDC protocols, business continuity planning and providing a fair cancellation policy given the current circumstances.

• Reducing rental fees is not ideal as it can devalue your brand; offering incentives for less desirable days or adding more included elements to a package price is a more effective long-term strategy.

• Anticipate new categories of events such an employee or customer appreciation events.

• Norms regarding number of guests seated at rounds, buffets, passed hors d’oeuvres and stations are all changing. The catering community needs to pivot quickly to be able to provide guidance and offer creative solutions once gatherings can happen again.

• Packaging will be an important part of food service in the future. Sourcing sustainable and cost- effective materials will be the challenge. This research needs to be done now.

We hope that you find this information helpful. If you have any questions or comments, we would love to hear from you.

Please continue to stay safe and healthy. We are optimistic about the future of the event industry and believe that there is great enthusiasm to begin gathering again!

New Normal COVID 19 Questions
19- Mar2020
Posted By: Tracy Lawler

Finding the New Normal

As I stand in my home office on March 18 (I have a standing desk), I look outside and see signs of spring which provides some hope. The last two weeks in the US, and the weeks before throughout the world have ushered in a pandemic with dire health and economic consequences unlike anything most of us have experienced in our lifetime. We have all lived through tragic times on a localized and limited basis; a hurricane which causes major damage to a particular city or swath of a state. This, of course, is mind bogglingly different. The very large majority of the world population is impacted in a very meaningful way and in need of assistance. Large private companies, who might have previously been able to assist, are reeling themselves. And yet, my entire team continues working from New York to Los Angeles and is busy on pop up support calls with clients and ongoing projects. As I try to wrap my brain around what the “new normal” might be and when it might occur, I have a host of questions on my mind which I know many of my clients are thinking about too:

  • How are hospitality providers dealing with employees?
  • Are employees of our onsite shuttered cafés being paid? If so by who and for how long?
  • Is there a norm when it comes to these compensation questions for a contract operated outlet?
  • How will these shutdowns impact benefits eligibility?
  • Can these employee’s skills be deployed elsewhere in a creative and productive manner?
  • Will proposals on the table with a significant investment component still stand?
  • How will the ability of caterers, food service providers and others to invest in future projects be impacted?
  • What will be the impact to projects underway?
  • Will donors start backing out of major projects?
  • How will institutional earned income from food services be impacted in the short term? Midterm?
  • Should institutions anticipate food service providers to seek contract renegotiation as a result of financial suffering? What are some mitigation strategies?
  • When will people feel comfortable attending events?
  • How will this change the event market?
  • What changes do we need to consider for our internal contracts and policies in light of the pandemic?

As I write this, I have some ideas with respect to the above and am actively having conversations with many industry colleagues on others. We have always advocated for a collaborative relationship between clients and their food service vendors; in the coming months I predict that will be more important than ever. We are open for business and here to support clients and others in any way we can. Please reach out at any time and I look forward to connecting in person once this crisis has passed.