In search of inspiration for this letter, I turned to the one I wrote for January 2017, in which I griped about some trends I wanted to toss in the new year. Twelve months later, the Sriracha trend has calmed down, food trucks seem slightly less pervasive and, while the definition of “clean” eating continues to evolve, it’s not so laser-focused on GMOs. So it seems my predictions were correct, including the one about where I’d be eating on New Year’s Day (though I had no clue my now-fiance would propose to me that night over duck noodle soup).
However, since this year has been filled with plenty of things to complain about, I decided not to repeat the same subject matter. Instead, here are some tidbits and trends that inspired me this year from our conversations with FSDs and other industry pros.
- The overwhelming rush to help in the face of disaster. In the wake of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, dozens—if not hundreds—of noncommercial operations in affected areas threw open their doors as feeding centers. That aid extended long past the immediate aftermath; within days of being struck by Hurricane Harvey, Houston Independent School District announced it would serve three free meals a day to each student in the district, an awe-inspiring feat.
- Plant-based everything. With health and budgets in mind, more operators are banking on the power of plants, as highlighted in FoodService Director’s annual Chefs’ Council Menu Trends Survey. With grains like amaranth and quinoa popping up at Northern Colorado University for breakfast, and veggie fajita tacos making a bang at lunch among K-12 students at The Muse School in Calabasas, Calif., operators are amping up the non-meat flavors in a way that turns produce into a menu star rather than a side note.
- An internal culture of caring. What makes a staff more likely to care for the well-being of its diners and larger community? Feeling a sense of connection and support among one another. During my reporting trip to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for February’s cover story, I sat back and listened with a smile while four assistant directors joked with one another about Christmas gifts and returning from winter break. At Gundersen Health System, December’s Foodservice Operation of the Month, a cultural overhaul put a stop to bullying, increased employee engagement scores and led to a 90% improvement in tray audit accuracy. In both cases, it was clear that staffers felt empowered and valued by their managers, a sentiment I hope I bring to my own team as well.
On the days when nothing seems to be going right, I keep stories like these in my back pocket for motivation. And I’m looking forward to hearing even more of them in the year to come, and sharing as many as possible in the pages of FoodService Director. Happy New Year!