5 stocking stuffers for jollier FSDs

Bianca N. Herron, Digital Editor

Sad Santa

Dear Santa,

I know things are pretty hectic with it being a day before Christmas Eve and all. Granted, I’ve never loaded a sleigh with a slew of presents, made sure any reindeer were prepared for a world trip or sorted the naughty from the nice, but I can imagine the stress you’re under to make millions of people happy in less than 48 hours.

Speaking of happiness, this hasn’t been the easiest year for the noncommercial foodservice industry. As you’re checking your list twice—and maybe a third time for good measure—could you add these last-minute requests from a few FSDs to help make the new year a more joyous one for them, please?

1. A larger talent pool

With all of the elves you have on staff, I’m assuming this hasn’t been a problem for you. But for many FSDs, it has been tough attracting talented potential employees

Paula Amols, director of dining services at Murray State University in Kentucky, says she’s wishing for an “ample supply of qualified and committed workers.” She continues to struggle to fill vacant positions, she says, despite incentivizing potential hires by selling them on the material benefits that working for the university provides—including free meals on the job, quarterly and annual employee-of-the-year recognitions and the fixings for a family meal to take home at Christmas.

Similarly, the one thing Davenport University’s Director of Dining Services Scott VanDeraa tells us he wants in his stocking is a better screening process from a bigger applicant pool.

Jill Uhlman, assistant director of nutrition services at UC San Diego Health-La Jolla, on the other hand, would like more full-time employees. “We never seem to be able to keep up, and it would be a dream come true to have one day when we are staffed completely,” she told FSD.

2. Some good PR

For dining directors in senior living, it isn’t easy attracting candidates due to the perception that working in the segment stifles potential hires’ culinary ambitions, according to John Andrews, corporate director of culinary and nutritional services at Ohio Presbyterian Retirement Services. So topping his wish list this year: He’d like that stigma removed.

“As a chef in a retirement community there is the opportunity to use your culinary skills and build new ones while serving a population that values your professionalism and service. So please Santa, I've been good this year, and a career in senior dining will be good for culinary professionals seeking to feed their creative and competitive appetites,” Andrews says.

3. Free lunch and breakfast for all students

All jokes aside Santa, I’m sure you understand the importance of eating a healthy meal or two. It’s nothing new, but schools nationwide continue to have trouble staying in the black, as more news reports show unpaid school-lunch debt rising every week.

Districts face turning students away from the lunch line, which is why Sandy Kramer, child nutrition supervisor at South Dakota’s Yankton School District, would like every school to have a universal breakfast and lunch program. “Children could just concentrate on school instead of worrying if they need lunch money or what they are going to say when the school-lunch cashier says they need money,” she says. “No child should ever have to worry about having money to eat at school.”

4. Action on Child Nutrition Reauthorization

Whether it was chefs asking Congress to freeze the current controversial federal nutrition standards or school-nutrition professionals calling for more flexibility, reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act has been one of the biggest debates of the year.

According to School Nutrition Association officials, a reauthorized bill that provides school-meal programs more funding and menu-planning flexibility would be a win for many foodservice professionals across the country.

The first deadline for action passed in September and another came and went this month. Limbo leaves operators in a state of flux. As the SNA’s VP of government affairs and media relations wished aloud earlier this year, “The most wonderful thing we could imagine is that they listen to constituents, [especially concerning] modifications and flexibility.”

5. More appreciation for the industry

Dining, especially in the collegiate segment, is an essential service according to Dawn Aubrey, associate director of housing for dining services at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and president of the National Association of College & University Food Services. But it’s much more than that, which is why she’d like to see its “true value” and the academic benefit it provides recognized.

“It’s more than getting nourishment. It’s about what we bring. We are an experiential learning classroom. We teach life skills—everything from kitchen skills to safety and sanitation but also communication, conflict resolution, prioritization, timeliness,” Aubrey says. “I want to elevate dining … When the educational experience is looked at, [I want others] to look at it holistically and recognize what the value is that a dining operation brings.”

If you could oblige and pull those gifts out of your big red bag Santa, I’m sure you’ll get plenty of milk and cookies next year.

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