MenuDirections 2013: Day Two Highlights

Coming face-to-face with a pig's head adds clarity on FSDs' changing roles

It’s not a routine conference when the speaker reaches for the severed pig’s head on the counter and lifts off the face, explaining he’d carved it free earlier so he’d have time to saw apart the carcass that’d been parted from the skull (“The brain’s still in there, but that’s okay.”)

Welcome to one of the more extraordinary sessions of Menu Directions 2013 and the lens it provides on how the food service director’s job is changing. During one of the conference's 30-Minute Universities, Stephen Gerike of the National Pork Board broke down half a pig and a whole hog’s head to show the audience where familiar pork specialties come from. In the process, he underscored how much more the FSD has to know today to do his or her job, a message that was sounded repeatedly from the stage and in casual conversations.

Clearly that responsibility extends far beyond feeding tens or hundreds of thousands of people per day. During the MenuDirections awards banquet, FSD of the Year candidate Eric Goldestein was lauded for serving almost 900,000 meals daily in New York City schools. But what drew gasps from the audience was the observation that he also oversees student transportation within the nation’s largest school district.

In feedback to speakers and chatter during breaks, attendees noted that their responsibilities now extend to housing, laundry services and, perhaps most routinely, the concessions in stadiums and other facilities connected to a non-commercial foodservice operation. Once, the worry was making food look good on the line. Now, as West Point’s Kevin D’Onofrio noted at one breakfast, it's adjusting to a game day snowstorm that cuts revenues from  your stadium concessions by some 70%.

But it’s not just a matter of new areas of responsibility being added. As the pig-carving 30-Minute University illustrated, FSDs need to know far more today about their core responsibilities of serving food. It’s no longer merely a challenge of finding the "Peel Back Here" corner on frozen product. They need to have a grasp on where their food comes from, and what to do about dynamics like the surge in gluten-free dining.

About that pig carving: As attendees sat in obvious enthrallment to the instruction, Gerike sawed up half the half-pig, explaining what parts yield foods ranging from bacon to chops. Ten years ago, who’d have thought a roomful of FSDs would be interested in learning how to make pork cracklins.

If any attendee still believed non-commercial foodservice is all about re-therming hotel trays of supplied food and slopping it into a cafeteria line, they likely thought differently after the conference. One of the popular lunch stations featured Sushi Bob, a kit of sorts for making sushi.

Among the other informational nuggets that were served up today:

  • West Point sells a small entrée-sized serving of pasta for $6.95, a dish that costs the military academy 85 cents to prepare. That’s an 88% margin.
  • As popular as taco salads might be in colleges or B&I settings, the health factor could be broadened by switching to baked taco shells and offering tofu as a protein source.
  • Beef producers are testing new ground beef preparations that meet the USDA’s new school meal regulations, revealed Dave Zino of The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
  • Chocolate milk remains a flashpoint in school feeding, with regulators and parental watchdogs railing against the sugar content and FSDs and even nutritionists countering that healthier milk does nothing for kids if they won’t drink it.
  • If you’re promoting healthier items, use food photos and other graphics instead of words to showcase what you’re offering.
  • Discounts might be even more effective in convincing customers to try healthful fare. Hallmark, a B&I facility in Kanas City, Mo., has trained cashiers to read the language. “We had cashiers tell people, this is how much you saved by choosing healthy items,” explained FSD Christine Rankin.

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