2010 Menu Development survey: In menus, diversity rules

Chefs and operators are becoming more adventurous with their menus but there are still limits to what they can achieve.

Italia
At NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, customers “are pretty open to any ethnic cuisine,” says Food and Nutrition Services Director Regina Toomey Bueno.

“Italian is still the most universally liked, probably because it has been around forever. We sell pretty much everything though.”

2010 Menu Develpment Survey chart local and organicItalian is also the top cuisine at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, according to Executive Chef Roger Lademann. “Italian is probably the most popular because it’s a safe option for customers; they feel comfortable with it,” he says. “They can recognize the foods and tastes without being disappointed. Mexican and Chinese are a close second, because they are fun and flavorful, and because they can be easy to eat with your hands: tacos, quesadillas, egg rolls and dumplings.”

Dominic Machi, foodservice director for the Newark (Calif.) Unified School District, says his menus are influenced by what kids see on the outside. “Asian and Mexican seem to be the most popular,” Machi says. “As you look at retail menus you see items from those cuisines the most, and this reflects what the students desire to have in their lunch program.”

In the Midwest, the more exotic ethnic cuisines sometimes take a little longer to percolate, says Lucas Miller, executive chef at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.

“With a student body that is mostly from the Midwest, there tends to be a longer learning curve,” Miller suggests. “Students are willing to try new cuisines, but it takes some research and time to see if they will become repeat customers.”

Ball State’s approach has been to introduce new cuisines like Indian and Thai during special meals and events. “Some cuisines require special equipment and modifications to facilities we may not have,” says Miller. “By serving lesser-known cuisines periodically we can get a better understanding if they will be well received prior to modifying existing facilities or planning future ones.”

Roger Pigozzi, executive chef at the University of California at Los Angeles, says that no matter what type of cuisine is being served, the key to success is realism.

“Due to the diversity of our students and staff at UCLA, it is important that our ethnic cuisines are authentic,” Pigozzi notes. “Whether we are serving Mediterranean, Asian or Mexican, as long as the items served are prepared and presented following authentic recipes, the dishes are equally well received.”

The best sellers: For all of the hype about ethnic cuisines, world flavors are still, for the most part, much like healthy eating. Customers will ask for more diversity, but they often end up gravitating toward the old favorites.

“Chicken fingers,” says James Rose, executive chef at Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, N.Y. “Skidmore has offered Chicken Fingers Friday for it seems like forever. We serve approximately 350 to 400 pounds per meal period. Marinated breast of chicken also is very popular.”

Harrison, of Hillsborough County School District, agrees.

“Kids and adults love them,” she notes. “They are easy to eat while you’re walking and talking. No one seems to get tired of them.”

At the University of Kansas, chicken tenders also rule but in a slightly different form, according to Traver. “Our best-selling item is the crunchy chicken cheddar wrap,” she says. “It contains chicken tenders, cheddar cheese and ranch dressing—all mainstays of the student diet.”

At Temple University Hospital, fried chicken, made from scratch as an entrée, “is how we roll,” says Cooley. “Also, steak sandwiches on the grill—we’re in Philly and we have great rolls.”

At many institutions, hamburgers are considered a comfort food—and a top seller, as well.

“Our best-selling item in our secondary schools? Our hamburgers, which we charbroil every day,” says Newark Unified School District’s Machi. “We prepare the burgers while students are walking to their classes. They see the smoke and smell the burgers. We even have the neighbors going crazy.”

“Standard American fare,” adds Miller of Ball State. “Hamburgers, french fries, lasagna, mashed potatoes and gravy.”

Oliver, at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, says nothing beats comfort when it comes to the menu.

“I think our two best-selling items are fried chicken and meatloaf with mushroom gravy,” Oliver says. “People still want comfort food, no matter what time of year.”

More From FoodService Director

Managing Your Business
business man smash computer

Foodservice directors spend a lot of time taking care of other people, whether it’s K-12 students who aren’t always eating enough at home, malnourished patients back for return visits or employees squabbling among themselves. That kind of pressure can weigh heavily—and come home from work. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America finds that 83% of men and 72% of women say stress at work carries over into their personal lives, and 50% call staff management their main culprit for workplace stress.

“Stress is very difficult in our world, and work-life balance is very much a...

Industry News & Opinion

Students at an Arkansas high school may have to take creative measures to get a meal, thanks to a school policy that prevents parents from dropping off lunches left at home.

The Catholic High School for Boys in Little Rock, Ark., last week posted a picture on Facebook of a sign that reads, “Stop. If you are dropping off your son’s forgotten lunch, books, homework, equipment, etc., please turn around and exit the building. Your son will learn to problem-solve in your absence.”

While social media opinions on the school’s rule were mixed, some commenters expressed concern that...

Industry News & Opinion

Novato Unified School District in Novato, Calif., has created a new vegetarian grab-and-go item as part of the district’s Meatless Monday initiative, marinij.com reports .

The Fiesta Rice and Bean Shaker, which is served in disposable cups, contains rice, corn, black beans, taco seasoning, corn tortilla chips and romaine lettuce topped with an optional salsa and ranch dressing. It’s also customizable, as students are able to select which ingredients they’d like to include.

The vegetarian shaker is made using produce from a nearby organic garden. Sofie Garcia, an employee in...

Industry News & Opinion

High school students in Dallastown Area School District in Dallastown, Pa., will soon see the addition of live prep stations in their cafeteria, as well as an area where they can access food at any time during the school day.

The district has partnered with Chartwells for the revamp, which will allow students to watch their food being prepared and also includes the addition of new menu items, says the York Dispatch .

Chartwells’ mid-Atlantic dietitian, Aliza Stern, believes these changes will be welcomed by students as they become increasingly interested in different types...

FSD Resources