Raise the flavor profile, not the beef spend

Four operator tips for creating main dishes that sizzle on a dime.

Lindsey Ramsey, Contributing Editor

angus steak plate

Beef has long been an entree staple, but with prices projected to rise by 5 to 6 percent this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, it is becoming tough for operators to keep up.

Here are some ways noncommercial chefs are satisfying consumers’ desire to keep the hearty protein on the plate without breaking the budget.

1. Go gourmet for less

Switching from Angus to grass-fed ground beef and reducing the portion size of its signature burger allowed San Diego State University to increase its profit margin, says Paul Melchior, director of SDSU Dining Services. It also led to a better value for customers. “We were actually able to reduce the price by $2, taking the margin from 78 percent at $10 to 81 percent at $8,” he says. SDSU then offered a new gourmet option to add bacon and fried onions as an upsell of $2.

2. Apply creative cooking techniques

Braising and sous vide (slowly steaming meat in an airtight bag) are preparations that help get the most value from low-end cuts, Melchoir says. Braising works especially well with flavor profiles such as barbecue and curry, while sous vide maximizes the meat’s tenderness, making a top sirloin steak taste like a tenderloin, he says.

3. Ask vendors to make a deal

Though part of a buying group which reduces costs all around, Todd Hollander, director of dining services and events at John Knox Village, a continuing-care retirement community in Lee’s Summit, Mo., was able to secure additional savings just by asking. “We have found our local distributors and processors are willing to decrease their mark up with the more expensive center-of-the-plate items,” Hollander says.

4. Flavor up less-expensive proteins

To keep menus interesting while combating rising prices, Hollander has begun featuring options starring proteins other than beef, often in ethnic-inspired dishes. Stuffed pork chops, Szechuan chicken, shredded pork, enchiladas and seafood creole all are making a bigger splash on the menus at John Knox Village. “Don’t be afraid to try new flavor profiles,” Hollander says. “Be creative and know what is important to your guest.”

More cost-cutting strategies

  • Scale back beef specials from weekly to twice a month
  • Avoid protein-only center-of-the-plate items
  • Serve more vegetables to enhance plate coverage
  • Reduce portions so residents can feel good about cleaning their plates
  • Wrap more economical beef cuts in bacon to increase value perception

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion

The International Foodservice Manufacturers Association has made public the 2018 recipients of its annual Silver Plate awards.

The nine winners—each of whom was given the top prize in their respective foodservice segment—include four well-known names in noncommercial:

Healthcare: Jim McGrody , director of culinary and nutrition services at UNC Rex Healthcare in Raleigh, N.C. C&U: Dennis Pierce , executive director of dining services at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Conn. B&I: Michiel Bakker , director of global food services for Google K-12: Ken Yant,...
Industry News & Opinion

Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary in Brunswick, Maine, is hosting a mentorship program that brings in local community members to have lunch with second-graders twice a week, The Forecaster reports.

The program is aimed to foster conversation between the students and area adults, and staff say they are happy to have the extra adult supervision during lunch and recess.

Officials would like to find more volunteers to expand the program to the third, fourth and fifth grades in the future.

Read the full story via theforecaster.net .

Ideas and Innovation
buying small

Here’s a stunner for noncommercial operators who work with one big supplier: Smith College buys food from more than 50 different suppliers. And only three of those suppliers sell Smith more than 3% of its food. “We know boutique,” says Andy Cox, director of Dining Services at the Northampton, Mass., school. “There are ways to make it work.”

Adding to Smith’s challenges: Dining Services has 12 kitchens and no central receiving, and works to ensure that 20% of its food is fair, local, humane and/or ecologically sound.

Teamwork between a food buyer and financial systems...

Industry News & Opinion

Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind., is celebrating National Nutrition Month by offering free weekly samples of plant-based items , as well as hosting produce-centric events around campus, the Indiana Daily Student reports.

Every Wednesday this month, students will be able to sample such dishes as vegetable vindaloo, lemon-herb quinoa salad, and pistachio and apricot couscous. Some of the items featured have been offered previously on campus, while others are new recipes.

The university has also partnered with a culinary training organization to launch two plant-based...

FSD Resources