Setting the Stage for SHFM

The history of the Society for Hospitality and Foodservice Management (SHFM) is inextricably tied to decisions made in the early 19th century by banks, insurance companies and telephone companies to provide free lunches to their employees. Later, as big industrial sites developed producing large concentrations of employee populations, providing employees meals was a matter of necessity not choice. By the time Henry Ford introduced the first mass production assembly line in Detroit circa 1910, work forces numbering in the tens of thousands were common. The outbreak of World War I gave further impetus to the concentration of labor, all of which drove a rapid expansion of meal-at-work programs to support the nutritional needs of an ever-burgeoning growth of round-the-clock production shifts. For many Americans, job-site meals became as much a part of the work environment as job-site medical care.

If there was ever a time that assured the permanency, resiliency, and legitimacy of employee feeding it occurred during WWII with the revival of the manufacturing sector which had collapsed during the Great Depression. The commanding presence of American steel works, auto factories, chemical plants and service organizations dominated the world economy resulting in record domestic growth. By the end of the war there were estimates that suggested that almost half of the 12,500 industrial plants operating in the U.S. offered employee foodservice. And so, a whole new segment of the non-commercial foodservice sector was recognized as an important adjunct service to corporate America. While lackluster might not fully  describe the prevailing foodservice programs, negative industry labels like “industrial feeding”, “institutional foodservice”, “in-plant foodservice” certainly did. Regardless, a new company benefit was born and with it the need for professional management.

SHFM’s Roots

Major financial subsidies that corporations committed to their foodservice programs demanded the recruitment of qualified foodservice professionals to manage these activities. To that end, corporations had the choice of operating their own foodservices (self-op) or turn the management of these activities over to one the many contract foodservice management companies, commonly referred to as caterers.  By the 1950’s, over 60 percent of corporations were operating their own foodservice programs.  Managers of these in-house foodservice programs coalesced around need for a trade association to provide a support network for education and training, idea sharing, benchmarking, socialization etc.   That need was filled in late 1950 with the founding of the National Industrial Cafeteria Managers Association (NICMA). NICMA’s charter restricted membership to self-operators. There was a common belief and insecurity among the managers of self-ops that contract foodservice companies in their zeal to grow market share would be an outright threat to their jobs; as such, NICMA wanted nothing to do with them.

Corporations who chose to have a caterer operate their foodservices recruited individuals to manage, provide oversight, audit, and set operating objectives and standards for the caterer. Because they served as the connection between the client company and the caterer, these individuals were commonly referred to as “liaisons”. Meanwhile, the same trade association attributes that drove the creation of NICMA became the catalyst for the creation in the early 70’s of the Association for Food Service Management (AFSM) whose active membership included  foodservice management contractors and liaisons. These organizations and their membership were not custodians watching over the status-quo in employee foodservice; they were the harbingers of great things to come.

SHFM is Born

Great things happen when one person with a vision is able to inspire and motivate naysayers to support that vision; a leader whose patience and perseverance produces a tectonic shift to an industry, a pioneer. That person was Richard Ysmael, a major self-operator, whose creative management of Motorola’s branded Food Works program would, over the years, receive every honor that the industry could muster. During the early 70’s, Richard was extremely active in NICMA including helping to manage it. Hoping to bring an organization in to take over management of NICMA he contacted three potential candidates in 1974. He quickly focused his attention on Phillip Cooke, a well-known public relations executive specializing in the foodservice industry. When Richard presented Phillip with the idea of association management, Phillip’s unenthusiastic response was “I don’t do that; I’ve never done that”.  Those words didn’t matter to Richard as evidenced by his reply of “give me a proposal anyway”.  Phillip Cooke, the owner/partner of Foodservice Associates (now FSA Management Group) was quickly awarded the contract to manage NICMA. Around the time NICMA was turned over to Phillip, Richard become curious about the other organization, AFSM, and attended a couple of their meetings which was considered heresy by his fellow NICMA members who would ask “you’re a self-op, why would you want to go there?”  To which Richard would reply, “I don’t feel threatened by networking with these folks”

His initial thoughts about the ASFM centered around the lack of any real differences between the two organizations other than NICMA’s membership of all self-operators. When Richard discovered that the ASFM also had some members who were self-operators he was almost immediately captured by an “urge to merge” NICMA with the AFSM. And so, Richard with the help of Phillip Cooke started working toward that goal. Richard’s youth and energy made him naturally impatient and convinced him that the merge could be done very quickly, but, in fact, it did not. Despite a favorable sales pitch that envisioned a stronger combined organization, the elimination of having to compete for sponsorship dollars, and a unified organization that would improve new member recruitment, neither organization was interested.    While the most significant merge obstacle was NICMA members who had deep fears about mingling with foodservice management contractors, the prevailing attitude from ASFM members was their self-assessment that they were a better, more professional organization, so why merge? It took two years of back and forth diplomacy for Richard and Phillip to finally find enough support from both organizations to schedule a meeting of the respective Boards of Directors. At the time of this break thru Richard and Phillip met at a bar in Houston and wondered what they would call this new organization if approved.   They started jotting down ideas on cocktail napkins. NICMA had two words that they both wanted to avoid: “industrial” and “cafeteria” and so they settled on a tweaking the ASFM.  

A New Association is Formed

A new era in employee dining began when the respective Boards provided their imprimatur in June, 1979 with the announcement of the formation of the Society for Foodservice Management (SFM). (The cocktail napkin on which this name was written was forever lost.) This newly merged organization had a combined 240 members all eager to de-institutionalize the foodservice segment that was now respectfully known as Business & Industry foodservice. The success of this merge was well articulated in 1980 by Herb Trumbore, SFM’s second president when in his President’s Letter he said: “Our active membership comprised of contractors, independents, and liaison personnel, and our associate membership representing a diversity of products and services have melded together in a strong and unified association striving toward common goals that can only benefit all of us. And this has been accomplished with a total lack of strife and stress. I think congratulations are in order for everyone in the SFM for this achievement”.

This Society has always been dedicated to bringing about change to the industry and when necessary, change to itself. Over the ensuing years SFM members saw their job responsibilities change, encompassing an array of corporate support functions.  And while employee foodservice will always be the raison d’etre for the organization’s founding, future growth will, as has already been the case, depend upon meeting the changing needs of its membership and at the same time publicly updating its charter to allow for new members. 

October, 2013 marked another milestone in the history of change to this professional association when it officially changed from the Society for Foodservice Management to the Society of Hospitality and Foodservice Management. This is an organization of “new beginnings” of which more can be expected because the status quo is anathema to the DNA of its membership.

SHFM wishes to thank Past President Neil Reyer for the creation of this history.

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