A meet-the-chef model drives employee engagement

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

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

Industry News & Opinion

Howard County Public School System in Ellicott City, Md., will be offering free lunch to students for two days during winter break, The Baltimore Sun reports.

This is the first time the district will be providing meals over winter break. The lunch will be served on Dec. 27 and 28 at two sites in the community.

About 22.2% of the district’s students are enrolled for free or reduced-price meals. The district served 66,276 meals last summer during its summer meal program .

Read the full story via baltimoresun.com .

Industry News & Opinion

Cranston School District in Cranston, R.I., has hired a collection agency to help reduce its lunch debt , NBC 10 reports.

The district’s chief operating officer sent a letter to parents saying that the district would be using a collection agency next year to collect outstanding lunch balances after other collection methods have failed. Parents who owe $20 or more and haven’t paid in the last 60 days will receive a letter from the agency starting Jan. 2, 2019.

Cranston accumulated $95,508 in unpaid lunch balances between Sept. 1, 2016 and June 30, 2018. The district’s meal...

Ideas and Innovation
hot school lunch

As lunch shaming remains in the national spotlight, many school districts have turned away from providing alternate meals, such as a cheese sandwich, to students who can’t pay for lunch. While this ensures that students are provided a full meal and aren’t stigmatized, it has caused some districts to quickly accumulate lunch debt . In order to keep funds under control, school districts throughout the country are now relying on assistance from their communities to defray the cost of some meals.

1. School lunch fairies

Students at Apollo-Ridge School District in Spring Church, Pa.,...

Industry News & Opinion

When looking for a way to get more use out of its Canyon Cafe, open during the weekends only, California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, Calif., tried something new: free cooking classes.

Classes are open to students, as well as faculty and staff, and are taught by Campus Dining Executive Chef Michael Albright, according to Mustang News .

The weekday classes, which are capped at 14 participants, have taught attendees how to make items such as probiotic overnight oats and “the perfect turkey.” Interested parties can sign up online via the school’s dining...

FSD Resources