Mary Lou Kennedy: Handle With Care

Mary Lou Kennedy is all about providing care. Whether it's taking care of others or taking care of business, Kennedy has had the opportunity to use her caregiving attitude to great effect during her 20 years as director of dining and bookstore services at 1,700-student Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. Originally trained as a registered dietitian, Kennedy's strong organizational skills and a desire to satisfy customers at every opportunity have turned Bowdoin's program into one of the best foodservice operations in the country, according to the Princeton Review.

"When I first came here, the employee procedures were very ad hoc," Kennedy says. "For example, in dining they would just write a new menu off the top of their heads each week. So when I came in I wanted to get a rotating menu going. But they insisted it would take away flexibility, when really they had been repeating themselves by coming up with a new menu on the spur of the moment. So I think I contributed a lot of organization. If you get enough structure around the day-to-day routine, then everyone will be open to change because you're not dealing with day-to-day craziness."

It was Kennedy's organizational skills that got the department through a time of tremendous growth. Bowdoin used to have several fraternities on campus that fed about one-third of the students. When those fraternities closed, Dining Services had a sudden influx of students that hadn't been dining with the department. This, along with growing enrollment, changed the focus of the dining program to a more culinary-minded approach to satisfy students. In the past 10 years, Kennedy has increased revenue 62%.

"Mary Lou definitely has her eye on the big picture," says Michele Gaillard, assistant director. "This isn't to say she doesn't get involved in the day-to-day operations, she actually seems to be everywhere at once. She makes us aspire to do more than what is right in front of us."

Bowdoin College Organic GardenGreen thumb: Kennedy's ability to see the big picture served her well when a student approached Dining Services about creating an organic garden, long before gardens became the trend du jour on college campuses.

"The Bowdoin organic garden seemed like a completely crazy idea five years ago," Gaillard says. "Few of us in the department had the vision of what it could be. Mary Lou was not deterred and fought hard every step of the way. Now, we all bask in the glow of our beautiful, abundant garden that helps fulfill our sustainability commitments, but without Mary Lou, it would just be a mound of dirt."

The college now has two organic gardens that cover an acre of land about two miles from campus. Kennedy says during the short Maine growing season, the garden can provide 14% of Dining Services' produce.

"Our top five crops last year were salad greens, tomatoes, broccoli, basil and beans," Kennedy says. "We planted 21 high bush blueberries two years ago and look forward to our first crop this year. Because of the short season, we have a small greenhouse for getting some seedlings started and we're hoping we can build a larger greenhouse. Meanwhile, we're trying to do more freezing of items for use later."

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
cafeteria

Three years ago, Colonial School District in New Castle, Del., started a pilot supper program at its high school. The goal: To make sure the district’s students, 57% of whom are on free or reduced-priced meals, would not be hungry when school is done for the day.

Since its inception, the program has expanded to 12 schools and now provides afterschool meals to children participating in YMCA activities. And it's just one of many such programs popping up in districts throughout the country, as operators add supper to the list of daily meals they provide for students.

Building...
Ideas and Innovation
hydroponics

We put our hydroponic gardens in a spot where students can watch them grow, but at the same time it’s safe from being tampered with. At one of our elementary schools, the gardens are in the kitchen, but there’s a window where students can look in as they walk down the hallway. Some even stop to count how many cucumbers they see.

Ideas and Innovation
food snap

We started a 50-member vegan team in response to students expressing the need for more vegan options. Between our monthly meetings, students are asked to take photos of foods they eat in and out of the dining halls to give us a true picture of the kinds of things they like and the kinds of foods that cause disappointment. This exercise has sparked a lot of conversation and given us more insight into what we could do better.

Ideas and Innovation
hybrid worker

Some of our employees can work four 10-hour days. It’s really helped with balance. We’ve also created a lot of hybrid positions, such as a personal services assistant and foodservice worker role. It allows workers to pick up more shifts and cover both positions.

FSD Resources