2007 Menu Development study: Footloose and trans fat-free

B&I on top of cutting-edge menu development.

In addition, nearly three-quarters of operators are not sourcing produce locally, while 69% aren't currently purchasing any organic products whatsoever.

The experience of David Collins, foodservice manager for Union Pacific Railroad's corporate headquarters points up the challenge ahead for operators wishing to source locally.

“The biggest surprise for me, from the vendors, is that many of them just blew us off," says Collins. “I guess we are a kind of pioneer in that area, at least in this regard." Two segments, Colleges and B&I, are placing more importance on culinary expertise in their kitchens. Sixty-three percent of colleges and 57% of B&Is employ an executive chef, compared to 27% of hospitals and 6% of schools.

In addition, one-third of B&I respondents have a sous chef on staff, followed by three-in-10 colleges—a segment, meanwhile, in which 30% of respondents employ a pastry chef (up from 20% in 2005).

And more institutions and companies are seeing benefits in bringing chefs out to the front of the house to manage as well as do menu planning. Companies like Bon Appetit have long employed chef-managers in their accounts, and this fall Princeton University will begin the switch to a culinary-based management system. Dining Services Director Stuart Orefice explains that each of the campus' three large residence halls will have three culinarians on staff: chef-manager, executive chef and sous chef.

How do operators keep these culinarians' skills sharp? Send them to trade shows, say 72% of respondents; conduct in-house training/workshops, 66%; facilitate on-line training, 25%; and have them attend institutes, schools or academies, 24%.

Such skills are in demand as the palate of the noncommercial customer grows increasingly sophisticated and demanding, especially in terms of ethnic cuisines "not to mention healthful yet bold-tasting options." In fact, Thai food, according to the FSD study, is once again the No.1 “hot new ethnic cuisine" among noncommercial operations, followed by Mediterranean/Greek. Thai, no surprise, is also the No.1 new ethnic cuisine operators plan to add to menus this year, followed by Indian and Mediterranean/Greek.

Other Menu Study results show that:

"Portable meal volume rose in B&I but appears to have waned in Colleges and Hospitals. In 2006, it accounted for 30% of B&I meal volume (1% greater than 2005), 17% of hospital volume (down from 30%) and 15% of college volume (down from 23%).

B&I gained ground in this area in recent years as Corporate America has reallocated dining space for other purposes; customer demand for portable meals has grown; and operatorsâ€"especially contractors, which dominate the B&I landscape "have reformulated operations to meet demand for grab-and-go meals (both hot and cold).

Looking ahead, just 20% of operators expect their portable meal volume to increase in this year.

"Just over one-third (36%) of all operators do display cooking, Disregarding schools, where display cooking is least likely to occur, the percentage of operators setting up display cooking stations skyrockets: 63% of B&Is and 65% of Colleges.

It's no secret that display cooking pushes key buttons in the customer satisfaction equation: freshness, customization and experience. As such, 49% of all operators expect their use of display cooking as a service style to increase this year, since, say 59% of them, customer volume increase on those days when display cooking is offered. On average, it boosts customer counts by 16%, they say.

Customization, in fact, is becoming more important in many areas of the dining facility. For example: 24% of operators are preparing meals to-order at delis; 23% at breakfast stations; and 22% at grill stations.