1. Make special events extra-special
At the University of California at Berkeley, getting involved in monthly special events is something of a reward, says Jose Martinez, assistant director of culinary, since staff get to influence everything from the recipes to decor. For Women’s Equality Day, for example, the department gathered recipes from its female chefs and spotlighted them on its website and on large posters. “That got all staff motivated, and we got to cook their recipes,” he says, adding that recognition and spreading a good attitude every day also helps.
2. Take it (all) outside
Instead of simply hosting outdoor meals on summer Fridays, the Garlands of Barrington in Illinois brings the entire kitchen outside, from the oven to the fridge to the fryer, says Executive Chef Nicola Torres. Meals themes range from a New England clam bake to a churrasco grill, and this year, the senior living facility will honor the local Ravinia music festival with a dinner under the stars featuring music from 2017’s performers. “By the end of the summer, yes, we are burned out—but not from boredom,” he says.
3. Capitalize on slow periods
With no kids to feed in the cafeteria during the summer, staff in the Detroit Public Schools Community District combats boredom by experimenting, says District Chef Kevin Frank. “Given the lighter workload, the summer is the best time to cut loose and think outside of the box as it pertains to product use and entree development,” he says. “I find that by getting the staff involved in entree development, we can generate more buy-in and really get the staff excited about not only what's coming up next year, but what we are doing every day during the summer.”
4. Go family-style
While college dining isn’t always known for homey gatherings, the University of Washington makes Sundays an exception, with themed dinners served family-style. A recent luau at the Seattle school featured kalua pork, lomi lomi salmon, braised cabbage, edamame and tofu poke, shoyu potatoes, and burnt sugar pineapple cake, says Campus Executive Chef Tracey MacRae.
5. Play hooky
Students and staff are taking vacation—why shouldn’t chefs do that, too? Janna Traver, executive chef at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, says she recognizes the value of time off to travel and recharge. “Many times, our staff comes back from vacations with great new ideas for upcoming menus,” she says.