Amy Beckstrom knows the key to a successful operation is to surround yourself with experts. As director of dining services at 28,000-student University of Colorado at Boulder, Beckstrom has assembled a team that increased gross revenue by 26% since becoming director in 2007.
“When I worked in schools I did the procurement, the nutrition, everything,” Beckstrom says. “What’s unique about college dining is that now I have an administrative team that is a line-up of experts. The key is that with a university this size you are able to have a team of experts that can really enhance every single area.”
Culinary development: The American Culinary Federation honored Beckstrom’s culinary team earlier this year with one of eight national Achievement of Excellence awards. Beckstrom says the award is the result of several strides made to foster culinary development, including the department’s participation in the ACF apprenticeship program.
“Every year at least four to six of our chefs participate in the apprenticeship program, which is extensive,” Beckstrom says. “The chefs apply and then they go to Denver almost every week and get training from ACF. That program has set a foundation for culinarians to improve their techniques. I think there is a synergy between the campus and its chefs that really fosters progressive eating habits.”
The renewed focus on culinary inspired the department to make the lead chefs from each unit part of the core management team.
“Each month when the management team met, the culinarians weren’t part of those conversations,” Beckstrom says. “Now that they are it helps us with decision-making and ensures communication. As a result of the new dining hall, we had to challenge our staff to learn new techniques such as cook-chill.”
Center for Community: The building that required the department to up the ante on its skills is the new 323,000-square-foot Center for Community, which features 10 dining concepts, a grab-and-go café, a bakery and a late-night retail location. [For a video tour of the Center for Community, click here.]
“In the new dining hall the stations all feature display cooking,” Beckstrom says. “That required our chefs not only to look at their skills but also at their customer service. The important thing in this is that in dining we often just think we are feeding, feeding, feeding. This new building has challenged us and we have purposefully communicated with our staff that this isn’t how we did things before. You’re going to be a part of the education of our students. You are building community and creating an environment where faculty and staff will want to come in and interact with students.”
The dining hall portion of the building features 10 concepts: Italian Cibo (pizza, made-to-order pasta), Latin Comida (made-to-order burritos), Asian Shi Pin (stir-fry), Persian Ghaza (kebabs, flatbreads), Sushi (hand-rolled), Smoke ’n Grill (in-house smoked items, rotisserie chicken, comfort foods), Kosher (kosher meats and side dishes), Black Coats (chef’s choice small plates), Wholesome Field (salad bar with fresh fruits, veggies, soups and deli items) and Desserts (fresh-baked goods, ice cream sundae bar). The grab-and-go café features salads, sandwiches and other high-end deli items. The WeatherTech Café, the late-night retail location, features made-to-order pizzas, sandwiches, salads, smoothies and gelato.
“We are serving about 10,000 meals per day in dining centers alone—about 5,800 just in the C4C,” Beckstrom says. “I originally estimated that 40% of our transactions would be at this location, but it’s more like 60%. The big focus here is a world of dining. I mentioned the production techniques the team needed to improve. That’s because we now do kosher, Persian and sushi, which we had never done before. With these stations, people are recognizing that this is high quality, authentic food.”
Executive Chef Kerry Paterson says the fact that Beckstrom doesn’t micromanage makes her successful.
“With so much change happening within dining, her ability to give us her vision and then stepping back and allowing those tasked with the job to get it done was ideal,” Paterson says. “Amy encourages those around her to do their best and continue to raise the bar in their respected areas so that as a whole, dining services is the winner.”
Since opening the new C4C Dining Center, Beckstrom says the department has seen an amazing positive financial impact. From the building’s opening in August 2010 to October Campus Cash (flexible spending dollars) revenue has increased 140% in six weeks, and the total new revenue increased 138%. Beckstrom says those increases indicate that more faculty and staff are enjoying meals in the dining centers.
Sustainable dining: Another big effort for Beckstrom has been sustainability.
“This is Boulder,” Beckstrom says. “So the expectations for sustainability are high and we like that. Last year, I recognized that people want to know what we’re doing in terms of sustainability. I created a position called coordinator for sustainable dining. Her job is to work with the units within housing and dining, along with the rest of campus, to facilitate what we’re doing, what we aren’t doing and what we should do.”
The department also has had a little help when implementing sustainable initiatives. For the last few years, dining services has worked with a class called Campus and the Biosphere that researched the best way to implement initiatives regarding the environmental impact of dining operations.
“A few years ago water bottle waste was becoming a big concern, and we were opening new grab-and-go locations,” Beckstrom says. “The class was concerned because all these locations created a whole other waste stream. In 2008, we were approaching 1 million bottles a year, so we put in these water stations outside of all the grab-and-go locations and dorms to encourage the students not to take bottled water. As a result, our bottled water usage has been reduced by 85% in two years.”
The department also made a big impact in reducing plastic bag usage in grab and go. Beckstrom says previously the department was using more than 600,000 plastic bags in those operations.
“We decided to eliminate plastic bags entirely from our grab-and-go operations and we did it and did not receive a single complaint,” Beckstrom says. “This demonstrates that students can be very supportive of these types of initiatives, as long as we communicate the positive impact they are making on the environment.”
The new building also allowed for improvement to composting. The building is setup so no one has to touch the compost. The department composts both pre- and post-consumer waste and diverts more than 200 tons of food waste from the landfills per year.
Beckstrom also considers the department’s efforts with local and organics part of sustainable dining.
“We established goals in terms of local, natural, organic products,” Beckstrom says. “Currently, we serve about 10% organic, 15% natural—which we define as minimally processed—and 15% local. The goal is to serve 25% for all three by 2015.”
Team player: Beckstrom worked in school foodservice for 16 years, and it was there that she developed her team-oriented approach. This approach led her to spearhead a revamp of the employee evaluation program, now called Peak Performers.
Beckstrom says the previous program was based on whichever employee got the most recognition slips.
“The new program changed the system to where the employees get recognized for good attendance, supporting their peers and providing training,” Beckstrom says. “Each month we recognize our employees and each year we have an annual celebration and the winner receives $500. Instead of slips the managers get together and nominate someone.”
Kambiz Khalili, executive director of Housing and Dining Services, says Beckstrom’s supportive nature makes her a great leader.
“She runs a fiscally sound program and understands the importance of MBWA [management by walking around],” Khalili says. “She is a cheerleader when things are tough and doesn’t hesitate assist staff. You cannot find someone more enthusiastic about her profession than Amy.”