When Lorrie Goodfellow stepped into the foodservice director role at Lee Public Schools in Massachusetts, she faced an immediate challenge. The district’s foodservice program had just ended its 2015 fiscal year with a $10,000 deficit.
But Goodfellow was undaunted. She had just turned around a deficit at nearby Lenox Public Schools, and she came in with a plan. Within four months of her arrival, Lee’s foodservice was at breakeven. And by the end of fiscal 2017, all that red ink had turned into a surplus of $21,560.
“There was no big speech on day one,” Goodfellow says. “It was just me getting in there and changing things, starting with organizing our spaces and moving up from there. There aren’t any shortcuts.”
Read on to see how the district, which encompasses 730 students, went from red to black.Nominate an FSO of the Month
Time for a change
Goodfellow’s back-to-basics approach created a framework focused on a variety of fundamentals: organizing storerooms and workspaces, expanding breakfast hours, adding new menu items, taking advantage of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Defense food programs, optimizing inventory and ordering to avoid food waste, and focusing on treating students like customers.
She marched into storerooms and refrigerators and began to organize. “It happens; things do pile up over time,” Goodfellow says. “I worked with the managers and we threw out a lot of things. We had several cases of these breakfast tacos that just didn’t sell, for example. They were still good, but we weren’t going to use them, so we cleared the space.”
Next, Goodfellow turned her attention to reorganizing the kitchens in Lee’s two schools (an elementary and a combined middle and high school). She relocated tools and appliances to focus on what was used most. Pans, containers and other items utilized less frequently were moved to the back. All of this reorganizing freed up both physical and mental space, which helped. But it was changes to breakfast service that Goodfellow considers the pivotal turning point. The Lee foodservice team expanded breakfast hours from 7 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., an hour and a half longer than the previous service.
The district also added a “flex period,” meaning students have a few more minutes in between classes, giving them more time to pop over to the cafeteria to grab a meal. “We were serving 25 breakfasts a day, and now it’s up to 125,” Goodfellow says. “It’s been just a massive turnaround.”Nominate an FSO of the Month
On the menu
Goodfellow and the team also added new breakfast items with a focus on grab-and-go, including hot sandwiches and yogurt parfaits. They also brought in new items for lunch, such as a salad bar, a popular lasagna rollup and chicken alfredo.
And students responded. Sales for the 2018-19 school year are slated to increase by 29% year over year for breakfast and 12% for lunch.
Goodfellow shares those figures and others with the team on at least a monthly basis, if not more frequently. And that makes a huge difference for staff, says Jane Belanger, kitchen manager for Lee Middle and High School. “Everything is really transparent,” Belanger says. “We’re an efficient team, and it helps us understand how our efforts are affecting the numbers. It’s motivating.”
To further boost those numbers, Goodfellow also analyzes expenditures and optimizes ordering to avoid waste. “It really helps to spend time with those production records,” Goodfellow says. “It gives us a place to start: OK, we used this number of cases of chicken nuggets last time. But maybe we had too many leftovers, so we know we can scale back.”
The productions records “are so important because they keep our waste to a minimum,” Belanger agrees. “It’s a great way to make sure our spending goes to good use.”
To further help with inventory and spending, Goodfellow worked to get Lee enrolled in a Department of Defense program that allots between $5,000 and $7,000 for fresh fruits and vegetables, in addition to USDA programs.Nominate an FSO of the Month
Beyond the numbers
A renewed focus on customer service has been another key part of the deficit turnaround. “When you see the influx of kids coming in excited to eat breakfast, you know you’re doing something right,” Belanger says.
Goodfellow has received emails from parents “about how their child was so sad to be kept home sick because it was taco day. Another said her child called our turkey dinner meal the best in the world. Funny little things like that really make our day.”
The framework that worked for Goodfellow at Lee, and earlier at Lenox, can be beneficial for any operator facing a deficit or general financial struggles.
“Start where I started, because it’s worked for me. Get organized, check your spending, do what you can to increase sales, and get your staff members on board to help you along the way,” she says.Nominate an FSO of the Month
Meet the FSD: Lorrie Goodfellow
Director of Nutrition, Lee Public Schools
Q: What are your goals for the coming year?
A: I’d like to continue improving the program and keeping it moving in the right direction: serving more meals, trying new items. Not everything works. We tried a cheese calzone that looked and sounded good, but the kids immediately said they didn’t like it. So that was the end of it. But you don’t know until you try—and that’s how you find those future favorites.
Q: What is it that makes your team great?
A: We all work to keep a positive attitude, and everyone is invested in our success. I share the numbers with them at least monthly. [I tell them], ‘We served this many breakfasts, this many lunches, increased sales by X.’ They get excited, and they keep me informed about what’s going on too. We’re truly working together for that success.