4 tips for a successful staff competition

Friendly face-off

purdue gingerbread house

With cooking competitions spicing up reality TV, it’s easy to see how a little rivalry among staff could be a fun form of skill- and teambuilding. “We look at it as a morale builder,” says Robert Landolphi, assistant director of culinary operations at University of Connecticut in Storrs, Conn., which hosts an annual Culinary Olympics competition with teams from campus dining halls, catering and retail restaurants. “It’s an opportunity for our chefs and some of our kitchen assistants to get out there and show off their culinary skills.”

1. Set the rules

Clearly state rules in writing and communicate them with participants in advance, says Kris Klinger, assistant vice president of retail operations at the University of Southern California, which hosts an “Iron Chef”-inspired USC Culinary Competition for about 100 participants every January at its Los Angeles campus. “It’s paramount that everyone ...  know what the expectations are,” he says. 

The rulebook for Purdue University’s annual December gingerbread competition—which pits teams of 10-20 students and full-time employees against one another—outlines procedure, judging criteria and prizes, says Bruce Haumesser, director of culinary operations and executive chef. For example, teams get $250 for decorations and can begin work in early November. The first-place team wins $1,000 to purchase something that will improve kitchen operations or guests’ dining experience. The majority of the costs, which Haumesser estimates at around $3,800 total, come out of the director’s budget.

2. Stick to them

Nothing spurs hard feelings faster than the perception that some aspect is unfair. Enforce the guidelines consistently and avoid conflicts of interest when possible, Landolphi says. Rather than use campus staff as judges for UConn’s Culinary Olympics each January, which attract between 65 and 70 participants, he taps local food-oriented folks—restaurant chefs, high school culinary staff and food journalists—to avoid possible bias. Skill is held in high regard, so USC has two judges that are Certified Master Chefs and the third judge is the chairman of the American Academy of Chefs.

3. Market in-house and out

Promote the competition to staff early and often to maximize participation. Klinger emails potential participants at USC, but has found posters to be most effective.

If appropriate, make the competition a marketing opportunity by inviting the public. The first year UConn added an “Iron Chef”-inspired component to its Culinary Olympics, six teams participated; now, 15 to 17 teams sign up, says Landolphi. “The marketing and educational value for those attending the event is money well spent and rationalizes the cost,” he says. Up to 350 people have cheered on the chefs during past competitions, and Landolphi says the food cost—less than $2,000—comes out of a budget set aside for education and staff training.

4. Review and revise

“Something always goes wrong,” Haumesser says. “It’s just in the way you react.” Review what did and didn’t work while details are fresh. At Purdue’s inaugural gingerbread competition, for example, Haumesser only announced the first-place winners.

“Everyone got bent out of shape. They all wanted to know who was in second, third, fourth,” he says. “There were no sour grapes; they were more interested in knowing how they did as a group so they could do better next year.”

More From FoodService Director

Managing Your Business
kitchen staff

If noncommercial operators hope to pull job candidates away from restaurant jobs, here’s what they’ll need to offer, according to a flurry of new research.

The data underscore that pay, once third or fourth on most lists of the reasons foodservice employees leave a position, is becoming a far more important consideration for taking or keeping a job. Financial security is particularly important for members of so-called Gen Z, or what’s being defined as young people age 21 and under, according to the study just released by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (...

Ideas and Innovation
tailgate

Not all the rivalry during a weekend of college football is limited to action on the field. Restaurants are intensifying their competition with college and university foodservices for the game day spreads that fans will set up in stadium parking lots and countless living rooms this season.

Operators ranging from Taco Bell to small independents are adding platters and meal packages this fall to capture more of the big-dollar spending by sports fanatics for tailgate parties and “couch gating,” the at-home version. They’re awakening to the opportunity many C&U foodservice...

Sponsored Content
local produce

From The Henry P. Kendall Foundation.

The Henry P. Kendall Foundation has spent more than 60 years investing in people and projects designed to make the world healthier and more sustainable. For the past six of those years, the Foundation has focused on the health and vitality of the food system within its native New England, with an eye toward increasing the amount of locally sourced food that is consumed in the region.

To do that, the Kendall Foundation looked to large-scale institutions, such as colleges and universities.

“By leveraging the buying power of the...

Sponsored Content
chicken wings

From Pierce Chicken.

Consumer demand for comfort foods is at an all-time high. Classic choices such as mashed potatoes, ice cream, French fries, meat loaf and macaroni and cheese continue to attract fans—even in senior living residences, cutting-edge college dining halls and office cafeterias where there are dozens of other on-trend menu choices.

One comforting ingredient that’s in high demand is chicken, but what is it about chicken that makes it such a feel-good food? Well, consumers grew up on Mom’s chicken soup and chicken pot pie, so it could be that it reminds them...

FSD Resources

Code for Asynchronous jQuery Munchkin Tracking Code