Lessons Learned

College foodservice directors and chefs say they brought back valuable ideas from
the 2011 MenuDirections conference, some of which have already been implemented. FoodService Director - MenuDirections - Umass, University of CaliforniaNEW ORLEANS—The 2011 MenuDirections conference in New Orleans attracted a record number of attendees—139 operators—and a good number of them work in college foodservice. We decided to ask this group what they took back with them for their operations, as well as what topics they’d be interested in 2012.

Takeaways: The first annual Goldies Awards provided some unexpected value, according to Ida Shen, assistant director of culinary for Cal Dining at the University of California at Berkeley, courtesy of the video presentations made by each award winner.

“There were so many wonderful takeaways from the videos that could be applied immediately to my operation,” says Shen. “The social interaction with the students at UMass (winners in the “Focusing on the Guest” category) was inspirational, as was the whole+sum program from Compass Group (winners in the Health & Wellness category). I shared the ideas and concepts with my staff, and we plan on making a few improvements.”

Marianne Jurayj, foodservice director at McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul, Minn., says she enjoyed the presentations on Southeast Asian street foods and on
menu trends.

“I immediately added the [Vietnamese] banh mi sandwiches to our menu, with great success,” Jurayj says. “We also are overhauling our menu this summer and we plan to take the menu trends to heart and let those be our guide.”

She also called Dr. James Painter’s keynote presentation on Mindless Eating an “eye-opener. We will incorporate a good deal of that information into our wellness education.”

Bunn-O-Matic’s presentation on coffee struck a chord with Martha Monaghan, special events coordinator for Dining Services at the University of Massachusetts.

“Simple tips to improve coffee, like removing the basket of coffee grounds once the coffee is brewed and don’t hold coffee more than 20 minutes, are really invaluable,” says Monaghan. “They are things foodservice folks should know, but on occasion they can skip a step. I also shared iced coffee information at our managers’ meeting; we’re trying to feature iced coffee a little more in our venues.”

Her boss, Ken Toong, director of auxiliary services, says he learned two valuable lessons at the event.

FoodService Director - MenuDirections - Umass, University of California“It is important to incorporate a variety of ethnics foods on our menu, and we need
to provide healthy options,” Toong says. “I particularly liked Mastering A Flavor Plan, as they taught us the importance of using flavor as part of a menu strategy, and that we need to reduce the use of salt.”

To some operators, simple techniques done differently were attention grabbers.

“I think the most valuable information I got was from (Aramark chef) Scott Keats regarding the preparation of chicken satay,” notes Jerry Schuchman, assistant manager, Student Union Dining at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. “He explained a method for cooking the satay on a hot sheet pan versus doing them on a charbroiler. I have prepared this dish many times using various methods such as baking, broiling and grilling. There is always a problem with burned skewers when using a charbroiler, baking dries them out and flat grilling causes uneven cooking. I plan on trying the sheet pan method, as we are testing new items for an international concept we are opening in the fall.”

Schuchman added that all of the street foods culinary workshops will figure into the planning of the international concept. “I also plan to use ideas from the bakery workshop regarding the use of healthier ingredients.”

Nancy Levandowski, Dining Services director at Iowa State University, in Ames, says, “This [conference] was perfect timing as we are writing our menus for the fall semester. We will be looking at Korean, Cuban, Vietnamese and Malaysian.”

She also liked the Making Menus Healthier culinary clinic, in which chefs broke down operators’ menus, including her own. “The review of our menus was very helpful to guide us at critiques for improvement,” she explains.

On the docket?: Attendees had several suggestions for workshop topics, such as Moroccan, Mediterranean, seafood, catering and marketing.

“I’d love to see more on social media and the menu,” says Ida Shen. “Are electronic menu boards worthwhile? Is the iPad going to take over the paper menu? As for food, I love Korean and Middle Eastern food and think that those are flavor profiles that are going to be very popular in the near future.”

Training is a topic that intrigues Oklahoma State’s Schuchman.

“Many of the individuals who work in campus dining units are part-time student employees,” he explained. “Finding effective ways to quickly train student and temporary workers would greatly reduce instances of poorly prepared menu items and customer wait times.”

But to point out the diversity even among the colleges market segment, two operators asked for polar opposites as topics.

“We are always looking for fresh marketing ideas for our retail locations,” says Jurayj. “We are an urban school that must compete with so many chains within a few block radius, so we are always looking for ways to engage our audience.”

Conversely, Billie Wynne, retail/production manager for Valley Services at Millsaps College, Jackson, Miss., notes, “We are on a board plan, so the retail side is not the best learning for me, although I do have one retail location. I would like to see ideas for buffet style like we do every day. It is so hard to come up with refreshing new ideas for a board plan.”