A meet-the-chef model drives employee engagement

Customizable salad and pizza stations make Idexx lunches a collaborative experience.

By 
Katie Fanuko, Associate Editor

idexx laboratories culinary fusion cafe

The 86 percent participation rate at Idexx Laboratories’ Culinary Fusion cafe is as much about the food as it is about the people preparing it. As employees at the Westbrook, Maine, veterinary diagnostics company browse the lunch offerings at multiple stations—including stone-oven baked pizzas and hand-rolled sushi—they’re greeted by chefs who chat with them about the local ingredients and skilled preparations used to create made-to-order entrees.

Culinary Fusion, Idexx’s newest self-operated cafeteria, opened in August 2013 in the company’s $35-million, LEED-certified Synergy Center,  which some reports have compared to Google’s corporate headquarters. The dining space was specifically designed to foster interaction: All of Fusion’s chefs and sous chefs prepare items in front of guests at cooking stations, and there isn’t a back-of-house kitchen.

“When I was looking at the design, I wanted chefs and customers to collaborate about the items they are having for lunch,” says Kim Cassella, dining services manager at Idexx.

Guests can order hand-rolled maki at a sushi station, get a slice of pizza at the stone oven or select from daily specials with a New England twist, such as lobster macaroni and cheese, from another interactive station. This third action station was designed to be flexible, Cassella says, to accommodate a rotating menu. “Fast-casual dining is exciting and ever-changing, so you need versatility in the equipment,” she says.

Diners can concoct their own salad at the salad bar—or they can give the chef free rein. The chefs often suggest ingredient pairings guests might not consider on their own, such as root vegetables and sunflower seeds. Employees crunched for time can skip the line—and the interaction—entirely by selecting premade salads and sandwiches from the grab-and-go stations and heading to a self-checkout lane.

But it’s the interaction that Cassella credits for the high participation rate—47 percentage points higher than the average 39 percent lunch participation rate at B&I operations, according to a 2013 study by Society for Hospitality and Foodservice Management. “[The cooks] are the real ‘secret sauce’ to each customer’s dining experience,” Cassella says. “They innovate and energize the entire dining program, every day.” 

More From FoodService Director

Sponsored Content
low sodium foodservice

From Furmano's.

Although salt often gets a bad reputation in the health and nutrition industry, a small amount of the nutrient is necessary for proper body functioning. It’s an essential mineral the body uses to control blood pressure, help muscles and nerves work properly and balance fluids. However, it’s important for consumers to watch sodium intake, because some studies have shown that it may increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and some cancers.

One group of people who are at high risk for too much sodium intake are elderly consumers, as the...

Industry News & Opinion

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is serving free meals to students in North Carolina who were affected by Hurricane Florence.

Students in the disaster area will be able to receive the free meals through Oct. 26. The government says that the meals will potentially benefit 31 districts and more than 284,000 students.

School districts will be able to serve meals that do not follow meal pattern requirements or meal planning through Oct. 19 in order to help administer the meals as effectively as possible.

“During a storm like this, the state may face...

Managing Your Business
school supplies

Students at School District 27J in Brighton, Colo., and Pueblo City Schools in Pueblo, Colo., returned to a shorter school year this fall . Both districts have switched to a four-day school week in an attempt to cut costs and help attract and retain teachers.

While the switch could have a positive outcome for the districts, the nutrition teams are facing challenges such as staffing , a potentially off-kilter commodities supply and concern over how to provide food to students on the extra day.

Open communication

On Monday when school is not in session, School District 27J...

Industry News & Opinion

More than 200 schools in Colorado participated in Colorado Proud School Meal Day, Alamosa News reports.

The day is meant to highlight Colorado agriculture as well as educate students on healthy eating.

At Mountain Valley School in Saguache, Colo., staff served tomatillos, collard greens, purple potatoes, beans, squash and pickled beets, while students at North Conejos School District in La Jara, Colo., enjoyed Colorado peaches.

In Sanford, Colo., students at Sanford Schools got to try local potatoes and were able to vote on if they liked them or not. A map of...

FSD Resources

Code for Asynchronous jQuery Munchkin Tracking Code