The foodservice director's ever-expanding role

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For years before he came to the University of Kansas at Lawrence in 2016, Director of Dining Services Mark Petrino immersed himself in every side of the business he could, including budgeting, operations, residential, retail, catering and equipment purchasing. But when KU prepared to open its new South Dining Commons last August, Petrino found himself doing something new: interior design.

Architects’ proposals didn’t meet his expectations, so Petrino found himself not only placing equipment and stations, but also choosing interiors, color schemes and wall decorations. He toured other universities and even looked to the restaurants, hotels and casinos of Las Vegas. Ultimately, he drew on KU’s red and blue colors and the center’s proximity to the legendary Allen Fieldhouse for inspiration.

The position of noncommercial foodservice operator seems to include more roles than ever these days, from bookkeeper and supplier contact to menu planner and allergist. This year, FSDs are taking on new tasks—such as spatial design—as well as balancing their time effectively and figuring out what to delegate.

Wearing 2 hats

After 20 years in the business, Nutrition Services Manager Chris Schmitz of Sanford Worthington Medical Center in Worthington, Minn., also found herself undertaking interior design. Her hospital always had a cafeteria, but it was recently updated into a community-serving cafe. She selected a homey color scheme and inviting furniture, but the choices weren’t easy.

“Those ideas aren’t readily available—you have to do a lot of digging,” she says. “Whatever magazines I get, I go through and rip out pages and keep them in a file. Pinterest lots of times has ideas and recipes, new things to try or a way to set up a buffet bar or make things look more appealing.”

Schmitz called the new space Prairie Cafe. She enlisted the local high school’s graphic design class to design a prairie grass mural for one wall, providing local color, community engagement, discounted art and a real-world learning opportunity for area students, all in one shot.

To balance the new demands on her time, she relied on her cooks to let her know what they needed ordered for recipes or even cleaning duties—inventory she once would have been able to take on directly.

All hands on deck

For Petrino, other new responsibilities have included trend forecasting. He scours trade magazines, food expos and trendy restaurants in major cities to help him understand what diners will want next. He’s also learned how to become more sustainable, saying goodbye to trays and hello to composting, for example. More recently, he’s joined a team that studies how to combat food insecurity on campus.

One thing Petrino has delegated: staff training. “As much as I’d love to train my staff on customer service,” he says, “I just do not have the time.” KU Dining Services created a training coordinator position to handle it. “At the beginning of the semester I say to this person, ‘Here are the areas I’d love to touch on,’ like ServSafe, CPR and customer service, and they can go wild.”

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