RealFood Hospitality, Strategy and Design
Interview with Matt Ward
The original founder of RealFood Hospitality, Strategy and Design, Ed Doyle has worked in some of the finest kitchens and foodservice operations across the industry, including a long list of award-winning and nationally recognized hotels and restaurants.
A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Doyle brings more than 25 years of extensive operational expertise to the broad portfolio of clients that RealFood serves. A dynamic and charismatic leader, Ed’s role at RealFood is focused on aligning his team to help clients achieve industry-leading hospitality operations. RealFood is a division of Troon, the world’s largest golf management company providing services at more than 585 locations and associated hospitality venues around the globe.
In addition to clubs and resorts, RealFood serves all segments of the hospitality and foodservice industry, including hotels, independent restaurants and groups, as well as public and private education, healthcare and lifecare, and municipal and government segments.
THE DOYLE STORY:
Looking back, I can see now that it was an experience from my first cooking job that first sparked the hospitality fire in me. It was at the Magic Pan. I had just been promoted from dishwasher to the “wheel,” which was the open kitchen in the front of house. From my post in that kitchen, I could see out into the dining room; I would make something and then watch a guest eat it. They would poke at it, not being satisfied, or they would lean over to their fellow diners saying “you have to try this.”
It was that immediacy of feedback that has been foundational to what I do, what we all do in hospitality. It was there that I first made the connection of the causality of our jobs in the world of food and beverage, and how we can so swiftly create a memorable moment, an experience, for someone.
You wake up in the morning — what’s the driving passion?
Knowing that every day is an opportunity. AND…to help the golf industry move beyond what’s always been done and what’s safe, to creating distinctive food and beverage (F&B) operations that elevate the member and guest experience while better aligning with club strategy and objectives.
How did you get interested in food?
I grew up in a family with a mom that cooked. Mom made bread every. single. morning. I remember when she would make pies, as a kid, I would get the pie scraps and I would make pinwheel cookies out of them. Nothing made was that incredible to eat but everything made conveyed a passion for taking care of people. That stayed with me and became part of my hospitality mantra.
Mom did have a wicked American chop suey and pepper steak, which she made on this skillet, that I can still picture in my head.
Then, I started in the restaurant industry as a dishwasher and knew I didn’t want to be there forever; when I finally made my way to the kitchen, it struck like a bolt of lightning.
What was the genesis for RealFood and outline the meaning of the word “real” with its connection to food?
RealFood started by accident, when I was a hospitality executive in transition. I announced myself as a consultant while I was working on developing my own restaurant in Boston on the waterfront. I did for about 2 years, and then I started to realize there was an opportunity to do something different in the consulting space, that most people who were consultants added little value to their clients. I saw that I could do something different, and RealFood was born.
As far as the name “RealFood,” when I started the company in 1996, it was at a time when farm-to-fork and sustainability were just barely becoming a topic of conversation for the restaurant industry. It was a time when the marketplace was on the precipice of a shift. RealFood came from that mindset—the willingness to shift, to rearrange, to reinvent. That mindset is what our company is built upon. Catchy, right? Also, unlike a large grocery chain, there’s no “s” in RealFood!
How does RealFood differentiate itself from others in the same category?
We solely focus on the success of our client’s ability to execute a differentiated guest experience that aligns with their business strategies and objectives. At RealFood, we are driven by our belief in the importance of the guest experience; that is our differentiator.
Nutrition has clearly accelerated in recent years — how does RealFood deal with this interest?
A greater focus on what we eat (i.e. what the consumer seeks) is not solely limited to nutrition; it falls in the bigger bucket of better food. People are trying to move up from where they are—more wholesome, more nutritious, more plants, less gluten. Every client has their own measure.
Our goal is to achieve many of those through a proper menu strategy and ingredient sourcing so we can drive on multiple levels; we don’t want to carve out every customer while leaving others unattended to, or while leaving our core purpose or desired experience in the dust.
How did the relationship come into focus with Troon?
Troon sought out RealFood to add external resources to its already robust corporate Food & Beverage team. Once RealFood started working with Troon, we realized there were a lot of synergies. Given how important F&B is across the golf spectrum currently and recognizing Troon’s singular focus is being the premier player in every aspect of club operations and club hospitality, the decision to bring RealFood inside the organization was strategically aligned.
How much of a gain financially — can any golf facility realize by upping the quality level of the food and drink they provide and why don’t more do so?
While the financials are an incredibly important question, answering how F&B can benefit a club solely through the lens of finance minimizes how powerful a tool F&B can be to advancing a club’s strategy, elevating member and guest satisfaction, and supporting financial and budgetary objectives.
In a market where members and guests frequently rate the F&B experience and social environment at or near the level of importance of golf, a well-executed F&B strategy can make a club standout, grow, elevate, move forward and maintain relevance in the lives of its members and guests.
Curious to know — when you walk into a facility that serves food — what draws your immediate attention and concern?
#1 is the immediate sense of hospitality when I walk through the front door, not limited to the F&B spaces; it should ooze from every aspect of the operation. Am I greeted? Am i recognized? Do I feel welcome?
Secondly, what is the overall state of the space—is it show-ready? Meticulously clean? Does it look like someone was anticipating me walking through the door and being ready for me? Lastly, conspicuous presence of the management team, engaging by walking around, greeting guests and looking after every detail.
What roles does customer feedback play in your operation and is there a specific instance when someone’s comments influenced a future action that you may not have realized needing to be carried out?
First, Feedback is a gift. It needs to be treated as such. Second, not all feedback is actionable. By that I mean, an individual piece of feedback, while sometimes helpful, many times is a one-off preference or individual feeling. Our goal is to listen for trends, recurring themes and, of course, opportunities related to the services we provide.
In the club world, leaders frequently complain about the level of engagement from the members and guests. Frequency of dining gives us opportunities to get feedback at a far greater rate than the non-club industry. I will challenge any club leader that complains about Mrs. Smith liking her Manhattan with five cherries and insisting it’s done that way every day.
In the club world, I can make this as she walks through the door; in the commercial world, I don’t have an idea of what she wants, or who she is for that matter, and have to guess. We have the luxury of our members and guests telling us how to make them happy. It’s up to us whether we use that knowledge for good.
Best advice you ever received — what was it and who from?
It was from a chef when I was about 22, about the time when I thought I was all that and a bag of chips. That chef was good enough to enthusiastically inform me that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did, and I was just at the beginning of my journey to become a bonafide hospitality professional. Here I sit 30 years later, thankful that chef was honest.
This industry is so vast, complex and dynamic, there is no way to ever arrive at the destination of knowing everything. I see every day as a true opportunity, where I get to come to work and leave knowing something new and helpful.
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