At Jensen Beach High School in southeastern Florida, the cafeteria was busy enough with three scheduled lunch periods. But then the school district’s leadership told the foodservice team a huge change was coming: They would have to drop to only two lunches.
The school’s block scheduling made the current lunch schedule disruptive to 50-minute classes. Students went to class for 20 minutes, and just as they were getting settled in, they’d head to lunch for a half hour. They’d then go back to finish the remaining 30 minutes of class.
The only solution, as directed by district leadership, was to decrease to two 30-minute lunch periods, which would prevent the interruption of class. Read on to see how the foodservice team took that on.Nominate an FSO of the Month
“My initial reaction was, ‘Oh, this is not good. We’re already so busy with two lunches. How can we possibly pull this off?’” says Laura Holmedal, director of food and nutrition services for Martin County School District. “I really didn’t want to do it at first, honestly.”
Most of Holmedal’s team experienced the same initial reaction. But when they learned about the rational behind the change, they understood.“It takes a couple of minutes to really get started, and the teachers were having to ‘reset’ a second time after lunch,” Holmedal says. “Sometimes kids would filter in a little late from lunch, and overall it’s just hard to pick back up. When we realized the point is to help our kids be more successful, it was a no-brainer.”
To achieve that goal, however, the team would need to feed a couple hundred more students at each lunch period. So, as Jessica Lam, food nutrition manager for Martin County schools, looked around the cafeteria, she quickly realized the facility needed two major changes. The new schedule would require not only additional service lines, but a total revamp of where various foods are available.
Lam dug into sales data and found that meals on the “Premium” menu, which sell for $3.75, sold better than the $2.10 “Cuisine” menu items. In the initial setup, the school’s cafeteria devoted two lines to each menu. As a result, the Premium-menu lines were always long. “I realized we had to completely redo how we sell things; every item needed to be sold on every line,” Lam says. “And we definitely needed more lines.”Nominate an FSO of the Month
The team ran a weeklong trial of two lunch periods in April 2017. They used lessons from that test along with other considerations to help inform their requirements for the new cafeteria.
Chief among those additional considerations: input from students. Along with group meetings and individual chats, students were invited to examine 3-D design plans and offer their opinions. From those conversations, it was clear students wanted more time to eat and more options for seating. They wished the outdoor courtyard was open more frequently, with better lighting and fans to cool things down. They were also looking for a design rooted in Jensen Falcons school spirit.
The renovation, which cost about $35,000 in total, was completed in April 2018 with construction taking place over a single weekend. When the students walked in Monday morning, they entered a shiny new space. Falcon pride was everywhere, with a mural of the mascot on one wall, and flags and curtains emblazoned with logos and mottos. A roll of butcher paper on a back wall invited students to draw. The courtyard is now be open every day, complete with fans, lights, and a cart selling the same food as the indoor lines.Nominate an FSO of the Month
Optimizing the area
The new space is optimized for the foodservice team. The team added six lines, up from four pre-renovation. And all food is now served on every line, plus the new courtyard cart. The cafeteria now seats 781 including the outdoor space, up from 557. The team was also able to hire food runners to serve and restock. That way, cashiers can stay at the register and keep lines moving.
“I asked the kids what they thought that first day, and I wrote down some of their responses because I just loved them,” Lam says. “Many said it’s cool, it’s great. One little girl said it has ‘pizazz.’ And another said it looks like High School Musical—so I thought, well, if it looks like we’re in a movie, that’s pretty good!”
That enthusiasm bore out in the sales, which rose 7.6% year-over-year in total at Jensen and another Martin County high school, South Fork, that also underwent a renovation. End-of-year banquets and other special events are now held at Jensen’s cafeteria, too.Nominate an FSO of the Month
Putting it in perspective
For other operators facing difficult changes, Holmedal recommends keeping an eye on the big picture. “You can’t lose sight of the fact that as foodservice, we’re operations,” she says. “In our case, we’re supposed to feed into that ultimate goal of educating all students for success. So even if it sounds like an impossible change, you have to accept that you need to do whatever it takes to achieve the larger goal.”
For Lam, surviving and thriving amid renovation planning came down to “just having patience and not giving up.”
“Big changes can be overwhelming,” she adds. “Dig into the data. Think about larger goals. Planning, with a lot of patience, will get you to your goal.”Nominate an FSO of the Month
Meet the FSD: Laura Holmedal
Director of Food and Nutrition Services
Martin County School District
Q: What are your goals for the coming year?
I want to help our people to get certified in certain areas. So, when it comes time to fill an opening for a cook or an assistant manager, instead of looking outside, I’d love for everybody to be able to have that knowledge and that credential so they can apply. We have great people, and great people are hard to find.
Q: What’s the key to your team’s success?
I can look at people and recognize what they’re good at—so I don’t bog them down with things they’re not good at. I let them do those tasks they excel at and enjoy. For example, I had a cook who made great food, but she was struggling with production records required under new regulations. The manager said, “I need to fire her.” I asked what was going on and talked to the cook, who was miserable. I said, “We’ve got this new girl over here who loves this stuff. Make the records her responsibility and let this cook do what she wants to do.” It was a massive weight lifted off her shoulder, and the food was great again. You can’t put a person into something they hate and say, “Too bad, this is your job.” Instead we say, “Oh, this is what you’re good at and that you love? Do that.”Nominate an FSO of the Month