Not all ideas worth stealing

Operators fess up to their worst ideas.

By 
Lindsey Ramsey, Contributing Editor

Compiling our 2nd annual Big Idea issue got us thinking about another type of idea. The idea that sounds great in theory but just didn’t fly in reality. We polled some operators to see if they would share what ended up being some of their worst ideas in the hope that you could learn from their pain.

Self-Service Salad
Susan Johnson
Director of Child Nutrition
Jackson-Madison County Schools
Jackson, Tenn.

We tried self-service salad bars, and they did not work out for some of our lower grades. The students were accidently putting their hands and shirtsleeves in the salad bar items. It was also taking a long time for the students to make their selections. We changed to a combination of premade salads for those instances. They have been very successful!

Shepherd’s Pie Problems
Tim Cipriano
Executive Director of Food Services
New Haven Public Schools
New Haven, Conn.

A few years back we made an awesome shepherd’s pie. We slow cooked our ground beef, made fresh gravy and used real potatoes for our mashed potatoes—it was fantastic. The workers in the central kitchen worked their butts off making this amazing recipe, and the kids were a bit taken back by the golden brown crusty concoction for lunch. We didn’t give up, we educated the principals and kids about what it was and then we put it on the menu again on St. Patrick’s Day. It was a complete FLOP. Our phones blew up that day from parents, teachers, principals and even a TV reporter inquiring to what we were attempting to serve the kids. We were successful in explaining the dish to everyone and received ZERO press from it, but we also learned our lesson to not menu it again. The sad thing is it was very good.

Training Trouble
Tim Dietzler
Director of Dining Services
Villanova University
Villanova, Pa.

In 2000, before the more recent food truck rage caught on, we were looking to place a food truck on campus. We opted for a custom golf cart, which would feature drinks, sandwiches and snacks. The interesting twist was that the cart was only available in a stick shift transmission. We posted for a full-time supervisor position to oversee the food truck with one of the requirements being they must have a valid driver’s license. We filled the position with an excellent in-house staff member, who was very interested in building the food truck business. Only problem was that she could not drive a stick shift. So I decided to take time to train her on how to drive a stick shift. This was a new training ground for me. We decided to do it after regular office hours in the underground parking garage on campus. This way we could avoid traffic, parked cars and possible accident zones. So our staff member, I will call her Beth, was ready, willing but at first not so able to operate the stick shift. It was a funny scenario and something out of “Seinfeld” as we puttered along the garage, circling and chugging along. More often we were stalling and sitting while we went over the gear shift and trying to time the releasing of the clutch and stepping on the gas. So these sessions went on for quite some time. Once Beth got comfortable and built her confidence she was ready to drive out of the garage and begin driving on campus. Occasionally, I’d receive a call in my office about problems with the truck from Beth. Eventually we took a hard look at sales and expenses. We were not breaking even on the food truck. So our venture in outdoor food trucks ended abruptly and well before the latest sensation. Sometimes early ventures can derail future opportunities. I would catalogue this as one of my worst ideas and an example of poor on-the-job training techniques.

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