Big dreams on a small budget

equipment dreams

Whether it’s aging equipment, a growing audience, the need to add a new location or just the desire to get creative, change is always on the radar at noncommercial facilities. But sometimes the budget just isn’t there. Nearly half (45%) of respondents to FoodService Director’s 2017 Operator Renovation Survey said they expected funding to be a potential issue for completing a project. So how are they meeting those challenges?

1. Partner up

toys on money

The University of Missouri’s Campus Dining Services was looking to launch a composting program as part of its environmental initiatives. But there were zero compost facilities in the city of Columbia, and the dining department didn’t have the budget to build its own. Instead of admitting defeat, MU looked to campus farms. 

“There’s always somebody out there that you can partner with,” says Michael Wuest, dining services marketing manager. “Don’t be afraid to ask.” Campus Dining Services ultimately linked up with Bradford Farm, part of MU’s Bradford Research and Extension Center, which features the largest concentration of research plots in crops, oils and related areas in the state. Each segment pitched in about $30,000, and now collaborates on a compost system operated by Bradford students, saving more than 250 tons of food waste from the landfill annually.

2. Spend someone else's money

toy man on money

Grants are another avenue for making improvements without a big out-of-pocket investment—including the nearly $200 million appropriated by Congress in the past six years for USDA kitchen equipment grants. Georgia’s Tift County School District received one such grant to irrigate its existing school farm and retrofit a canning plant to preserve tomatoes. 

“We continually apply for the Farm to School Grants because agriculture is huge here in Tift County,” says Vanessa Hayes, the district’s nutrition program director. Hayes says the district’s focus on the value of agriculture helps students academically while also encouraging them to try fresh fruits and vegetables. “With these additional funds, we can continue to provide activities that connect and engage our students,” she says.

3. Change your approach

construction helmet tools

Sometimes the equipment itself is the cost-saver. When Wisconsin-based Pine Haven Christian Communities built a new long-term care building a few years ago, Dining Services Assistant Manager Mary Aderman wanted to avoid the enormous expense of a full-service kitchen. Rather than invest in a full suite of equipment, she adapted the space into a blast-chill facility with a medium combi oven. 

Now, Aderman says, her team can prepare main entrees for all three facilities in advance and retherm with ease. The blast-chill facility allows her to save on labor costs since it requires fewer cooks, and she can even splurge on pricier ingredients like shrimp. “I would never go back,” she says.

With an impending budget squeeze due to declining enrollment, Wuest and his team needed to attract new customers. The Tiger Plan, launched in fall 2016, is designed to capture the business of off-campus students and comes with flexible dining dollars and discounts at a la carte locations and convenience stores.

Adding the Tiger Plan came with its own costs, including managing the program, marketing it to students and training staff. But Wuest says it has helped stretch the department’s budget. “You have to adapt,” he says. 

More From FoodService Director

Menu Development
sauces

Adding an entirely new cuisine to the menu can feel daunting. But what if you could dabble in international flavors simply by introducing a few new condiments? For inspiration, FSD talked to operators who are offering a range of condiments plucked from global regional cuisines.

“Most ethnic cuisines have some sort of sauce or condiment relishes that go with their dishes,” says Roy Sullivan, executive chef with Nutrition & Food Services at UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco. Condiments offered to diners at UCSF Medical include chimichurri (Argentina), curry (India), tzatziki (...

Ideas and Innovation
turnip juice brine

Give leftover brine new life by adding it to vegetables. In an interview with Food52, Stuart Brioza, chef and owner of State Bird Provisions in San Francisco, says that he adds a splash of leftover brine while sauteeing mushrooms to increase their flavor profile. “We like to ferment turnips at the restaurant, and it’s a great way to use that brine—though dill pickle brine would work just as well,” he says.

Menu Development
side dishes

Operators looking to increase sales of side dishes may want to focus on freshness and value. Here’s what attributes consumers say are important when picking sides.

Fresh - 73% Offered at a fair price - 72% Satisfies a craving - 64% Premium ingredients - 56% Natural ingredients - 49% Signature side - 47% Something familiar - 46% Housemade/made from scratch - 44% Something new/unique - 42% Large portion size - 42% Healthfulness - 40% Family-size - 40%

Source: Technomic’s 2017 Starters, Small Plates and Sides Consumer Trend Report , powered by Ignite

Ideas and Innovation
earth

When putting together our surveys, FoodService Director’s editors tend to ask operators about big trends that we’re seeing throughout the industry. For the November "Besties" issue , we asked readers to share the best ways they’re menuing things like plant-based dishes, trending international cuisines and creative DIY options.

Great responses flooded in from across the country, and it was tough to narrow down which would make it into the cover story. A few even came in after the piece was finished. Laura Thompson, resident district manager for Aramark at James Madison University,...

FSD Resources