Lessons Learned: Strategies from Foodservice Standouts

The world as we know it certainly made a sudden change as we shut down to self-quarantine in April.  With foodservice being an industry that took one of the biggest economic hits, we certainly saw the companies that truly stood out to help their teams and communities all the while working to stay in business.  Here are a few of the lessons from these standout foodservice brands that we can take note of their strategy, marketing, and pivots during a global crisis.

Panera Bread

In this interview with CEO Niren Chaudhary, we learned that their progressive thinking before the pandemic in setting up online ordering gave them a solid foundation to ramp up online ordering and launching Panera Grocery.  But true to their company values, they navigated the pandemic with a people-first strategy and partnered with Wal-Mart and CVS to temporarily place employees in jobs until they are able to bring them back. 


  • Always embrace new solutions and new ways of doing things – You don’t know when that innovation will be key to allowing you to pivot and get you through a drop in your market
  • Collaborate – Establish a broad set of relationships, you never know when they will be mutually beneficial
Panda Express

Through the pandemic with closed dining rooms, they have kept they kitchens open with continued drive thru and carryout, offering a generous discount for their family meals through online ordering.  They have always been a company with solid values and team culture, continuing to support their teams with pay and healthcare support.

Also, Panda used their charity arm, Panda Cares to distribute PPE to healthcare workers.  Founders Andrew and Peggy Cherng personally donated and combined with Panda Cares, gave two million to supplies for the COVID-19 frontlines.


  • Continue Operations – Keep brand awareness so there is no starting over when you return to normal operations and sales
  • Make Giving a Priority – In good and lean times there is always opportunity and a need to give
Raising Cane’s

CEO and Founder Todd Graves was monitoring Covid-19 in China and began preparing for what was to come once it hit the US.  Their mantra was no crew member left behind, and no employee was laid off even when sales dipped down to 30 percent of normal. 

One Baton Rouge store that was shut down got busy sewing masks, with machines and supplies provided by the company.  But a company that made food safety and cleanliness priority, they ramped up sanitation efforts to protect team members and customers alike.


  • Food, team, and customer safety is top priority before, during, and after a global health crisis
  • Community Work comes in Many Forms – Even if you have to put a pause on serving food to your community, you can find other ways to serve, like sewing face masks
& Pizza

Michael Lastoria, who has a reputation of innovative thinking and support of a workforce in foodservice, & Pizza ramped up their “tribe first” efforts by taking away the financial worries for their team during a health crisis by increasing wages, and making it easy for team members to not come to work if they are sick.  This business also generously gave away pizzas to healthcare workers.


  • Tribe First – When you prioritize taking care of your team, they prioritize taking care of you
  • Company Culture is a Marketing Strategy – a solid internal brand results in a strong external one
Just Salad

Last, but not least, Just Salad navigates the pandemic with innovation and style.  They took the sourcing and supply of their quality, fresh ingredients, and spun up a sister brand and online grocery portal featuring grocery kits with healthy essentials along with kits of favorites from their menu. 

 Recently Kenneth Cole collaborated with Just Salad on co-branded face masks for Just Salad’s team members.  The two brands were mutually impressed with work being done by their teams during the pandemic and wanted to combine forces with creative marketing and co-branding.  Face masks with the word “essential” in bold letters across the front is a reminder and tribute from to all those working tirelessly at Just Salad, but also those in foodservice keeping all fed and happy with good food.


  • Think of ways to use resources and supply to create a new service and need
  • Look for and work with companies that aren’t necessarily in the same industry, but ultimately share the same values and passions
  • Creativity and Relationships can be key to great marketing campaigns