The first meal of the day is important, both to customers and operators. When offering breakfast poses production problems, however, using convenience products is the solution.
Rey Hernandez, hospitality manager for the department of nutrition at UCLA Medical Center, serves over 5,000 meals daily at this acute-care, 600-plus-bed facility. At breakfast time he offers bagels, stuffed croissants, doughnuts and Danishes that he brings in from outside sources.
"They do quite well in the morning. We probably go through at least 10 dozen bagels. Otherwise, we prepare the rest of the breakfast entrees from scratch, like omelets. I use just a few prepared foods to support the programs that we have. They help expedite the process. Those items are self-serve; we don't have to man the station to serve them, so that's the convenience," he explains.
Self-service success story: Regina Toomey Bueno, dir. of food, nutrition and transport at The Valley Hospital, agrees that using products that promote self-service is the way to go. At the Ridgewood, NJ, 157-bed, acute-care facility, she recently tried a few convenience items with great success.
"We have done a lot of different things with breakfast over the last year and a half to boost sales in that area. One of the things we did to make it more exciting was to make it more self-serve in the cafeteria. We've tried to add items that patrons can serve themselves, such as a breakfast strata (resembles a quiche but without the crust) or savory bread pudding.
"Another selection we added was a grab-and-go concept from a manufacturer: pre-made breakfast sandwiches wrapped in foil paper. We offer sausage and egg on a bagel, or biscuit and English muffin with Canadian bacon, egg and cheese. We do have to keep constantly rotating the choices to keep customer interest," she notes.
Flexibility: Bueno adds that these prepared products offer flexibility for her adjunct healthcare operations, especially at a cancer center, which has limited hot food capability. "These sandwiches are good and we can microwave them, so it's an easy item for that location. Now we can offer something hot and some variety for that population," she points out.
Bueno also uses a frozen, pre-made hash brown product made with redskin potatoes, peppers and onions that she says looks and tastes like a freshly made side dish. "These items have allowed us to add variety without adding labor," she says.
As a culinary educator at Minneapolis College, Christopher Dwyer, certified executive chef, feels it's important that his students learn from-scratch methods and learn to cook with prepared products, too. That philosophy includes breakfast.
"I'm teaching them how to make the items from scratch and then learn about convenience products. For breakfast buffets, we use pre-blended eggs and I also tell culinary students about the precooked bacon that's out there. I explain that you can use pre-made products to make items more quickly, but I also show them how to make it, too," says Dwyer.
Practice makes perfect: "They learn how to make all their own Danishes, pastries and muffins, but we educate them about the great batters that are out. Then they learn about ready-to-go products from freezer to tray. We show them they can buy sweet bread dough already shaped into snail Danishes, and there are waffles, pre-made pancakes and cooked muffins ready to go. Wherever they end up, they'll know how to adjust the menu accordingly."
At Westport (CT) Public Schools, Rhonda Bergeron, assistant dir. of dining services for Chartwells, recently started featuring breakfast service at Bedford Middle School. "The cafeteria is right by the front door, where the buses drop off students before class, so breakfast was a natural to put in," she notes.
Breakfast opportunity: Bergeron opens one section of the lunchtime foodcourt and serves hot breakfast sandwiches that are made to order, like sausage, egg and cheese on a bagel or hard roll, using pre-made sausage patties. She also offers bagels and cream cheese, instant oatmeal, a cold cereal assortment and muffins baked from a mix.
"The muffin flavors vary according to the available fruit (blueberries, bananas). We combine bits of the fruit into the basic muffin batter," she says. The breakfast operation is only open for 20 minutes. At the high school students can order breakfast sandwiches similar to Bedford Middle.
Bergeron also offers a "Brunch for Lunch" program one day a week at her five elementary schools. To do it, she uses a variety of items, including cream cheese spreads, bagels, frozen waffles and more. "Prepared products are easier to use for that program, since those items are not part of our daily menu cycle. We're doing breakfast at lunchtime. But this is what the kids really want for lunch," she says.
"We do waffles with frozen strawberries, frozen french toast sticks with ham slices and pre-made pancakes—those are really big sellers. When it's Pancake Day, we go through a lot of boxes. In addition, anytime we offer a yogurt and bagel or yogurt and muffin combo, it's very popular because kids love yogurt. At elementary schools we offer a pre-made muffin because there's no time to bake there.
"We've adapted to what the student population wants. That's what we're here for."