Fine-tuning the menu

By Paul King, Editorial Director

Nona Golledge, director of KU dining at the University of Kansas, says that the hardest part of her job is “keeping up with the ever-changing needs and expectations of our customers.” Her belief is echoed by many of her colleagues in non-commercial foodservice, and for that reason menus are fluid, continually being tweaked or rewritten in response to an emerging trend, a new law or mandate, or some other challenge.

Much of the current fine-tuning of menus is being driven by concerns over health and/or the environment. At Kenmore Mercy Hospital, in Kenmore, N.Y., the foodservice department recently declared Mondays as “meatless.” Kathy McAlpine, manager of foodservice for the hospital, says the goal is to send a message to customers that they can help the environment and their own health by eliminating meat from the diets at least one day a week.

She notes that since implementing the program in July, she has seen chefs become more creative with menus, doing more with beans and legumes and creating vegetarian versions of popular meat-based entrees.

“We hope that Meatless Mondays will give people something to think about to make healthier choices throughout the week,” McAlpine says.

Fine-tuning a menu can do more than raise awareness; it also can raise revenue, At University Hospital in Columbia, Mo., dining and nutrition services has seen a 10% increase in sales in its foodservice facility since it changed the name, from Main Street Cafe to Essentials, the style of service—from waitservice to counter service—and the menu. The healthier menu offerings of Essentials are winning over new customers despite the dearth of fried and greasy foods.

At Meadows Nursing Center in Dallas, Pa., Cura Hospitality Services has experimented with the ultimate in menu fine-tuning—it has done away with the menu at breakfast. Residents at this long-term care and rehab center now can get anything they want at breakfast, cooked to order.

Grace Zarnas-Hoyer, spokesperson for Cura, said the biggest reason for this change was to encourage residents to get up and come to the dining room in the morning. Previously, most residents would simply order breakfast and have it delivered to their rooms. Now, from 7:30 to 8:45, they must come down to eat if they are able.

Staff have declared the new program a success, and some of them are even participating by buying tickets for breakfast. This has meant add-on sales for the foodservice department.

Food allergies are another reason for foodservice departments to tweak their menus. At Ohio State University in Columbus, the dining services department recently set up a “solution station” in several of its dining locations. At these stations, a variety of gluten-free items are available for student customers who are suffering from celiac disease or otherwise have a gluten intolerance.

Sometimes, fine-tuning a menu means simply trying to capture new business with a twist on an old favorite, or an unusual addition to a predictable menu. Freshens has done this by adding crepes to its line-up of frozen yogurt, smoothies, and shakes.

At locations like Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, students can now choose from a variety of savory, breakfast and dessert crepes, which sell form $6.95. Russ Williams, general manager for Parkhurst Dining Services at Robert Morris, says the crepes have been very popular, with the Caesar salad crepe and the pizza cali crepe being the two top sellers.

“The students consider them hand-held foods,” says Williams. “The savory crepes are entrée crepes, but a lot of them are being eaten as midday snacks, as are the dessert crepes.”