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Human Library Spotlight: Focusing on Food Service

Posted in: Truckstop Business, Marketing & Retail

At The NATSO Show, NATSO has tapped into leading industry experts for an interactive, one-on-one learning Human Library full of industry experts with decades of experience.

The experts are on loan to conference attendees for customized learning experiences operators can tailor to their own objectives.

This week on NATSO's blog we will meet this year's Human Library experts. Today we'll get to know food service expert Ed Burcher.

// Update, meet all of the Human Library experts at the links below:

Human Library Spotlight: Focusing on Food Service

The food service industry is changing rapidly. Not only are there new competitors, existing competitors are improving their model. What’s more, today’s customers have different expectations than they have in the past. During The NATSO Show, operators can sit down with food service expert Ed Burcher to discuss the latest trends and how they can strengthen or grow their food service offerings. For over 34 years, Burcher has been providing food service solutions that grow sales and profits to well-known industry leaders, including Wawa, Petro-Canada and Neighbours. We asked Burcher to give us to share some of his insight ahead of the show.

Q: How is food service different today compared to the past?
A. In the past “gut feel” may have been enough to build an offer. Today, facts, data, trends and process are needed to move a business forward.  The new competitors are certainly doing this. Even if operators have been successful with their food service in the past, today it is necessary to update their offers, approach and processes to deal with the changing marketplace. 

Q. Can you share any food service best practices operators should consider?
A. Start with a good foundation. This includes proper infrastructure, sanitation practices and updated offer. A simple place is with the beverage offer - both hot and cold.   

Another is to invest in their store associates with training. This includes not only procedures, but should include guest service. With food, you are not only in the “hunger” business, but hospitality plays a big part. Guests choose locations based on a variety of factors, and friendly staff is certainly high on the list.

Q. Are there any trends you’re seeing?
A. With the rebound of the economy in areas of the U.S., people are spending more away from home. I have seen companies with increases in their food offers, especially with new items and limited-time-offers that bring excitement to a store. Another area where there is a lot of interest is in snacks that can satisfy a wide range of guests. Operators should think about the types of offers that can address this increasingly important opportunity.

Also, breakfast continues to be a day-part showing growth. It is one where an operator can develop destination offers with their guests. A strong coffee and breakfast sandwich offer can be a foundation for this segment. Operators should look at their offer from the point of view of the guest for improvements. Think about what options are available in the market, where customers currently go for these products and why. Then, they should think about what they offer that is unique and compelling and what needs to be done to add these products or services to their store. 

Q. What frequently asked questions do you get from operators?
A. I am frequently asked where to get ideas for new products, limited-time-offers and new categories. This is part of the art and science of foodservice development. It is not as simple as just copying what an operator sees at a competitor or at a favorite quick-service restaurant. There is a process of product development that operators should employ that looks both in the channel, at the QSR segment and in general to see where tastes are going. Most importantly, taking a broad view can help them gain understanding into what it will take to implement this in a business.

//Burcher’s background in operations, marketing and foodservice provides a unique perspective to NATSO members, and during the Human Library at The NATSO Show he will be speaking with operators to help them find specific solutions for their locations. 

To help make the most of the visit, operators should bring layouts, pictures and program information on their locations, which give Burcher a greater understanding of the business and the opportunities that exist.  

To reserve a time to meet with Burcher and all of the Human Library experts, travel plaza operators should contact Kimberly Roberts at or (703) 739-8573.

The NATSO Show 2015 Human Library is sponsored by: 

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About the Author

Amy Toner

Amy Toner

Toner markets NATSO products, services and meetings. She is the content editor of NATSO's core websites, Stop Watch magazine and Highway Business Matters biweekly articles. In addition, she provides creative services across all departments. Toner joined NATSO in 2006. Prior to joining the association, she served as director of membership services at an association for ambulatory surgery centers. Toner lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and son.

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