US Foods' Fanatics Beef Up Resources for Restaurateurs

Jim Osborne, SVP, customer strategy & innovation for US Foods

There is no shortage of news, advice and tips for restaurant owners coping with closed restaurants during COVID-19, and yet the demand for more and more information is insatiable.Broadline distributor, US Foods has been providing assistance to its customers in the guise of menu design and business operations for two years shy of a decade, and now they’re opening up their resources to noncustomers as well.

"Right now our focus is on the industry," said Jim Osborne, SVP, customer strategy & innovation for US Foods. Capitalizing on their restaurant consultants' on-the-job experience and their inhouse "food fanatic chefs," US Foods is hosting a series of webinars on its website. Currently, they range from Navigating the CARES Act and Financial Resources to Pivoting to Takeout Delivery to Staffing and Training Resources.

Initially, Osborne said, operators questions centered around how to move operations to a takeout/delivery model. The demand then pivoted to how to navigate the CARES act, where the team at US Foods translated the legalese into "street language." "We got thousands of people on those webinars," he said.

Now that operators are trying to figure out how to function eight weeks in, the help centers around social media and expanding menus to include other options, such as family-style offerings or pantry items.

"One of the bright spots is we’re seeing a lot of sharing and commradierie in the industry," he said. Rather than viewing each other as competition, restaurateurs are coming together to help each other through this unprecedented event. Everyone is more or less starting from ground zero.

In addition to the group webinars, US Foods is also offering one-on-one consultations with their chefs via Zoom. "You can’t taste or smell, but you can have conversations about getting more utilization out of products you have," he said.

They are also addressing the subject on everyone’s mind: What’s the P&L going to look like once restaurants get the go ahead from the governor to open, and what does reopening look like? In good times the financial side of restaurants is delicate: Only 4 cents of every dollar is profit, Osborne said. "That’s not a lot to play with," he added.

 Most chef/owners who have a passion for food and love running a restaurant, have now figured out they’re running a small business," he said. "We’ve been practicing for this moment for eight years with our consultants."

It’s all about creating a conversation, Osborne said, and offering solutions and best practices. "If our customers sell more, we sell more."

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