Following the success of last year’s “bests,” FSD once again asked operators to share what topped their lists in nine categories: health & wellness, social media, catering, employees, menu, traditional marketing, design, retail and environment.
Use of “stealth health” in our operation: Cisco cafés nationwide introduced a new turkey burger. It consists of ground turkey, quinoa, spinach and seasonings. Not only is it much healthier, but it also appeals to our gluten-free guests.
—Cara Brechler, marketing manager for Bon Appétit, Cisco, Milpitas, Calif.
The best healthy dessert we’ve developed: Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies. The recipe actually came from Hardin County, Ky. We eventually made the recipe whole grain, although it already had oats in it. The ingredients also include dried cranberries. It is made at our central kitchen and it was “named” by our maintenance supervisor there. We have had a difficult time getting affordable dried cranberries lately, but when we menu it the kids like it.
—Julia Bauscher, director of child nutrition services, Jefferson County Schools, Louisville, Ky.
Healthy tweak to a traditional menu item we’ve made in the past year: We make a peanut butter banana vegan cupcake with peanut butter frosting that is really delicious. It has about half of the fat content as many of our other cupcakes.
—Todd Christopherson, dining manager, University of Wisconsin at Madison
Wellness promotion we’ve done in the past year: Foodservice employees did a walking across Oregon promotion where they wore pedometers and earned prizes as incentives. We encouraged participants to walk 50,000 steps per week to make it across the state in 10 weeks.
—Gitta Grether-Sweeney, director of nutrition services, Portland Public Schools, Portland, Ore.
The best wellness program I’ve seen: Apollo Group in Phoenix’s Healthy Living Revolution. It is an employee-driven, grassroots wellness program that is far more effective, in terms of both participation and ROI. I really like what our LifeWorks culinary team—in conjunction with the corporate team from Apollo—is doing to promote healthy eating, education and exercise. One of the things being done is Eat with Joe. Joe is the president and COO. Eat with Joe was a concept that allows customers to eat healthy each day by essentially eating what Joe eats, or Joe’s Pick—and essentially losing weight as Joe did since he ate Joe’s Pick every day. There is a sign above the destination for that day that is showcasing Joe’s Pick.
—Steve Norgren, vice president of business development, Aramark Business Services, Costa Mesa, Calif.
Outside resource for wellness I’ve used: The California Food Policy Advocates in Oakland. They have really nice staff who are always available to help and are full of knowledge.
—Billy Reid, director of child nutrition services, Salida Union School District, Salida, Calif.
The Best_Cooks Corner Healthy menu item we serve: We started incorporating a tofu option into our Cook’s Corner station in our retail operation. The Cook’s Corner features a chef preparing meals to order Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. We offer tofu as a meat substitute on almost all of our offerings. For example, if we are serving chicken Caesar salads made to order we offer tofu as a substitute for the chicken. Out of 200 orders we do approximately 40 tofu substitutions. Some other entrées we offer tofu as a substitute are gyros, Buffalo chicken wrap, ancho chicken salad and many more.
—Greg Merkle, manager of food and nutrition services, Morristown Medical Center, Morristown, N.J.
Twitter promotion I’ve seen: Seattle-based Cupcake Royale was the first cupcake café to open outside of New York City. Founded in 2003, Cupcake Royale grew from one location to five during an enormous economic downturn by building reputation and loyalty through Twitter. [They would] tweet secret specials like Cupcake Happy Hour at a particular location and time. They would closely relate themselves with the local scene by tweeting about special guests in music, pop culture or politics as an excellent PR strategy.
—Storm Hodge, assistant director of food services, University of Washington, Seattle
The Best, Twitter Idea to increase Facebook likes/Twitter followers: Using one of our marketing street team members, we offered a reusable cold cup as a thank you for simply signing up to “like” our Facebook page. The street team visited several locations around campus, armed with a laptop where students could sign up on the spot and receive their cup. We increased our fan base by 250 people over the course of two days.
—David Hill, area manager, University of New Hampshire, Durham, N.H.
Commercial use of social media that I’ve stolen: I love Boston’s Joanne Chang’s Flour Bakery + Café Twitter feeds’ conversational tone. We’ve tried to adopt that personal, ironic, observational, warm and friendly tone with our posts.
—Patti Klos, director of dining and business services, Tufts University, Medford, Mass.
The best non-promotional use of social media: My college-age daughter connected me with pinterest.com. The site advertises it as a virtual pinboard and a method to “organize and share the things you love.” For me, the best part is that it allows you to tell a “story” as opposed to a one-time Twitter post. You can create a pinboard of related topics, ideas or thoughts. You can create separate boards to categorize things like favorite recipes and share it with others.
—Julie Jones, director of food and nutrition, Ohio State University Medical Center, Columbus, Ohio
Facebook promotion I’ve seen: The Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District posts a picture each day of the meal a nutrition services employee chose to eat that day from one of the district’s schools. It shows great variety of options, including vegetables.
—Melanie Konarik, director of child nutrition, Spring Independent School District, Houston
The best special event we’ve held in the last year: We hosted our NACUFS Regional Meeting last March, and the Dining Services team turned our marketplace servery into an upscale catering area with multiple platforms. We had a shrimp and grits station, a cold seafood bar, a smoked brisket and barbecue station, and an incredible dessert station with a variety of selections and in-house produced candies. Add a great band and everyone had a wonderful time.
—Dee Hardy, director of auxiliary services, University of Richmond, Richmond, Va.
Location for a catered event: The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Mich. We did two holiday events there and the museum was decorated with Christmas trees. There is a large space and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Grand River. The museum staff was great and they had the best receiving area as far as food goes. The atmosphere was what made it so special.
—Randy Sparrow, director of food, nutrition and environmental services, Indiana University Health, Bloomington, Ind.
The Best, Sneakers Catering event we’ve done: We held a Suits and Sneakers Gala, which was a benefit reception and dinner for Coaches vs. Cancer, with proceeds going to the American Cancer Society. The event was held on the basketball court of Stegeman Coliseum. It was a very formal event with the exception that everyone wore athletic shoes. The white-gloved servers circulated throughout the crowd of 400 guests with items like bacon-wrapped scallops with red pepper coulis, risotto cakes with lemon aïoli and beef bourguignonne in puff pastry. For dinner we served Maryland-style crab cakes with tarragon remoulade and petite filet mignon with red wine demi-glaze with roasted garlic mashed potatoes and asparagus bundles. The event was upbeat and fun despite it being very upscale.
—Jeanne Fry, director of food services, Bolton Dining Commons, University of Georgia, Athens, Ga.
Theme for a catered event: Food around the world. I attended an event that had a bunch of stations, and each station featured food from different parts of the world and the different cooking styles from those countries.
—Tim Prosinski, Director of food services, Berlin Public Schools, Berlin, Conn.
Specialty menu item we’ve created for a catered event: A compressed watermelon with basil salt. I loved this one because it was born from the mother of invention. I made it for a last-minute catering event from what we had available. It was the middle of summer and this little appetizer exemplified the bounty of the summer. It was unexpected and took people by surprise.
—Eric Eisenberg, executive chef, Swedish Health Services, Seattle
Training exercise we’ve done: DISC Training, which is training based on a four-quadrant behavioral model to examine the behavior of individuals in their environment or within a specific situation. Armed with the knowledge relating to how people respond to information and situations, people can transform their interactions and it provides a platform for understanding and improved communication.
—Tod Nissle, vice president of operations for Compass Group, Microsoft, Redmond, Wash.
Employee recognition program I’ve seen: The Black Linen Award program was developed after a university’s executive unique customer service experience. Ernie Huff, associate vice president of student financial and administrative services, was eating breakfast in a hotel, wearing dark slacks. After the waiter took his order, the waiter removed the white linen napkin that had been on the table. When the waiter returned, he placed a black linen napkin on the table. “Why?” Huff asked. The waiter said, “I noticed you are wearing dark slacks and the white napkin would have left lint on them.” [Huff] shared this experience with us to illustrate that great service is a result of three things: anticipating customer needs, finding solutions to those needs and acting promptly. To recognize an employee for his/her outstanding commitment to exceptional service, recipients of the recognition receive a beautiful black linen napkin encased in a wooden frame.
—Rafi Taherian, executive director of Yale Dining, Yale University, New Haven, Conn.
The best thing I’ve learned from a younger colleague: How to exploit social media in marketing to our customers.
—Bill Marks, director of food and nutrition services, Hennepin County Medical Center, Minneapolis
Team-building exercise we’ve done: Our managers prepare menu items in teams at our meetings. It gives them a chance to interact on the best way to prepare for why the kids would or wouldn’t like the items and what changes could make the item healthier or taste better. Anytime you can have your team interact about changes in your department, the change usually has a better result.
—Gail Koutroubas, food service director, Andover Public Schools, Andover, Mass.
Idea to attract new business: We implemented a late-night pizza and wing delivery service, South West Express. The operation is open until 2 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 4 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. When the dining commons closes for the evening South West Express opens—using the same kitchen for retail operations. Express is a drop-off disposable catering service with no associated service charges or fees. The concept positions UMass Dining to compete with commercial operations such as Panera.
—Garett DiStefano, director of residential dining, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Mass.
The Best, California CheeseMarketing campaign I’ve ever seen: The Real California Cheese campaign always brings a smile and often an outright laugh to me. The named, happy cows, the whimsical captions and stories and the pride in the products [stick with you].
—Melissa Miller, executive chef for Bon Appétit, SAP, Palo Alto, Calif.
Healthy marketing/signage campaign we’ve developed: Sodexo’s Wellness and You and Simply To Go program are great for marketing our fresh offerings. The programs and the signage are great for customers because it forces the buyer to read and uses information that is current and useful to the consumer. The Meatless Monday campaign also is a great component for our healthy line as it educates consumers and promotes healthy eating.
—Stephanie Tanner, general manager for Sodexo, Cumberland Medical Center, Crossville, Tenn.
Restaurant design idea I’ve stolen: We purchased a few Electrolux Infared Panini Grills to speed up service in our customized deli stations located in residential dining facilities. We had struggled with speed of service with traditional panini presses.
—David Friend, director of dining services, West Virginia University, Morgantown, W.Va.
Recent equipment innovation I’ve seen: Since we do a lot of tableside cooking, the eco-friendly induction cooking system is fantastic. It allows instant control of cooking energy similar to gas burners, and because induction heats the cooking vessel itself, the possibility of burn injury is significantly less than with other methods.
—Robert Darrah, director of dining services, Legacy Retirement Communities, Lincoln, Neb.
Twist on a “traditional” cafeteria space I’ve seen: Brevard Public Schools’ Galley Grill. This was a hodgepodge outdoor area that was renovated and turned into a ship with two serving lines. The school used to be a middle school that served 800 students and it was turned into a high school that served 2,500 students. They only had two serving lines, so they needed additional points of service and the Galley Grill did that.
—Dawn Houser, director of nutrition services, Collier County Public Schools, Naples, Fla.
The Best, KU, Garden use of small space I’ve seen: We have a rooftop herb garden tucked away in a corner between some of the heating and cooling equipment. This area has always been locked away and was lost space. We now grow tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. While the roofing equipment utilizes a great deal of the square footage, it also provides much-needed shade to the more delicate herbs. We have 14 pickle buckets, three whiskey barrels and three earth boxes. This provides herbs for our catering operation and the full-service lunch restaurant during the summer months.
—Janna Traver, executive chef/assistant director for KU Dining Services, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kan.
Farm-to-table program I’ve seen: Hudson Farmers’ Market reached out to our school district to get the first indoors farmers’ market off the ground. We held the first market in October in the cafeteria commons at our high school. Connecting parents with the event allowed us to highlight what we do with farm to school. It also provided an opportunity to shop for home. It was a great message, a great connection, and supported local commerce and sustainability. All the good buzz words.
—Maureen Faron Pisanick, R.D., supervisor of nutrition services, Hudson City School District, Hudson, Ohio
Environmentally focused operation I’ve seen: Washington & Lee University, in Lexington, Va., has one of the best local food programs I have ever seen. Their leadership’s commitment to allocating budget to regionally sourced food is incredible. WLU has changed its operation from the bottom up to include this food.
—Elena Dulys-Nusbaum, sustainability coordinator, Virginia Tech University, Blacksburg, Va.
The best use of composting I’ve seen: I have been most intrigued by the development of facilities that are able not only to create compost from organic waste but also to generate energy for other uses. The Barr-Tech facility in eastern Washington and the Stone Barns Center in Pocantico, N.Y., are two examples.
—Mary Gregoire, director of nutrition services, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago
The Best, F'Real shake Takeout concept I’ve seen in the last year: We’ve had outstanding success with the F’real classic milkshakes, fruit smoothies and frozen cappuccinos. We have had good sales since we opened this in our Munchy Mart c-store in September.
—Hal Brown, director of dining services, University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, Colo.
The best retail concept I’ve seen: Wegmans Retail Food Service. From the focus on local farms, to being one of Fortune’s top 100 companies to work for in the USA, they always strive for excellence. They have the best varietyof any supermarket. They have an eatery where you can get pizza, made-to-order subs, a pasta bar, carving station and a great salad bar. Their selection of freshly made, take-home dinners for busy families is fantastic. Plus, they are really involved in each community they are in.
—Mark Bordeau, senior director of foodservice, Broome-Tioga BOCES, Binghamton, N.Y.
The best retail menu item we’ve developed: Our most popular deli item is a wrap station with the bread base coming from lavosh.
—Shawn LaPean, executive director, Cal Dining, University of California, Berkeley
Mistake I ever made: I was driving down the road talking with my produce distributor and asking him why he couldn’t deliver Washington state apples when I lived in New Hampshire. I dropped the phone and had to pull over. I happened to pull over at an apple orchard. That started my whole farm-to-school experience.
—Tony Geraci, executive director of child nutrition, Memphis City Public Schools, Memphis, Tenn.
Kitchen-related disaster that I can laugh at now: My first day at my first job as an executive chef in a steak restaurant, the kitchen was so hot all the light ballasts blew. We had no lights so I was cooking with a flashlight in my mouth. People were waiting for two hours for their meals. Thank God most of the customers were friends. My family had a table of 12 and had to listen to all the comments. I wasn’t laughing then but looking back I get hysterical.
—Brad Lange, director of dining services, Park Regency, Chandler, Ariz.
The best way I’ve found to relieve stress on the job: With the opening of our health and wellness complex, I now have the ability to go hit a racquetball around whenever things get a little tense.
—Damian Monticello, corporate foodservice liaison, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida, Jacksonville, Fla.
Food-related movie I’ve seen: “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” I have a passion for chocolate, and we all have that kid in us.
—Betty Perez, R.D., senior director of food and nutrition services at NYU Langone Medical Center,
Best, biryani Food memory I have: I toured India for six weeks to learn the style of cooking. Every day for two weeks I went to a different place. I went to a wedding and learned how to cook biryani, which is a typical food for a wedding feast. The cooking is so different.
—Dee Phillips, director of dining services, Davidson College, Davidson, N.C.