OPINIONRetail Foodservice

Key Ingredients for Next-Gen Retail Chefs

Sizing up the roles, responsibilities and evolving requirements of the masters of the 'super deli' universe
Bill Pizzico
Photograph courtesy of Bill Pizzico

Today’s retail foodservice chefs have helped to establish the retail supermarket as a top-of-mind meal planning destination by successfully melding great-tasting food, menu diversification and convenience.

Make no mistake about it: Whether working behind the deli counter on the sales floor or behind the scenes in the kitchen, a professional chef makes foods taste like it has come right out of the oven and onto your plate. It’s as if you’re sitting right there, having just ordered from the menu. The difference is their bill of fare is already prepared, waiting for your eyes to make the purchase and for your taste buds to recognize that the food tastes so good you’re already planning to return again soon for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

From their back-of-the-house kitchens and/or commissaries, the retail foodservice chef is preparing a variety of foods and must know—from planning to presentation—what recipes, products and ingredient combinations work best. In a retail environment, as opposed to a traditional restaurant world, this hybrid chef knows that no matter what the dish, the equipment that displays it, cooks it and keeps it at the right temperature must all work in harmony or the planning and preparation are for naught.

And that was only for Monday’s hot food bar menu.

The same preparation intensity and execution precision is also required for the refrigerated food bar and food kiosks; there are no “shortcuts” for the retail chef, and their behind-the-scenes expertise is always front and center seven days a week.

Tuck that away with five large catering orders and a handful of special orders and you can see why these talented chefs—who are, for the most part, behind the scenes—are so well respected by their department cohorts and appreciated by the consumers they serve each day.

A Full Course 

Retail foodservice chefs’ roles vary from company to company. Some chefs work directly with suppliers, distributors and brokers along the purchasing pathway; others have a say in equipment purchasing; and others are also responsible for the P&L and critical corporate planning decisions.

Yet while their roles differ, today’s retail chefs routinely work with vendors to ensure that the supply chain process goes beyond ensuring food safety and sanitation to providing a compelling menu for shoppers to enjoy.

From back-of-the-house equipment decisions to front-of-the-house presentations and menu rotations, the decisions these unsung heroes make are the reason the retail foodservice segment continues to evolve into the grocery “super deli.”

Retail executives should not overlook what their new chef hires will be asked to do in the realm of on-the-job training and applying their learned skills to the day-to-day demands of product inventory, logistics management and equipment selection, and display applications. The need to understand the holistic meal experience not only makes food taste great, but it’s also a pathway to presentation and the consumer’s return visit, which may make their expectations even higher.

In a perfect world, retail chefs will disband their a la carte thinking in favor of using their “full course” knowledge—from the boardroom to the loading dock to the parking lot—to keep their stores’ guests coming back time and time again.

Bill Pizzico is president and CEO of Blue Bell, Pa.-based Synergy Group. Reach him at bpizzico.synergy@gmail.com.


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