5 lessons from the 2016 NACUFS conference

1. Flavor trends: New takes on coffee, Asian flavors, “healthy”

I’m not sure if it’s because this year’s convention took place in California (aka Land of the Freekeh and Home of the Grains) or if the clean labeling movement has taken an even tighter hold on college dining, but the proliferation of GMO-free, gluten-free, additive-free and other “clean” products was apparent at this year’s NACUFS conference showcase. Other notable standouts included cold brew and artisan coffees, and new takes on Asian flavors, from ramen to broths to Indian to Thai. nacufs show floor

2. The best workers don’t always make the best trainers

Those with a great attitude who also put forth great effort are sure to be great trainers, right? Not necessarily, says Chuck Nicosia, corporate job trainer for University of Buffalo Dining. There’s another great aspect operators have to look for—patience. “They give a new person the chance to learn,” he says. Employees without the patience piece of the puzzle won’t always take the time to make sure a new hire has mastered the role.

3. Overprepare for the unexpected

When a YouTube video of a University of Connecticut student drunkenly harassing a dining services manager for jalapeno macaroni and cheese went viral in late 2015, the foodservices team reacted carefully. Dennis Pierce, executive director of dining services, issued a directive that all communication with the media come through himself and university higher-ups, and refused to respond to gossip on social media. But Pierce and Robert Landolphi, assistant director of culinary development, recognized that the videotaped incident itself wasn’t handled perfectly. “Dave [the manager] did a good job, but he probably could have handled it differently,” Landolphi says. “How do you de-escalate the situation instead?” UConn now has a protocol in place requiring residential dining employees to immediately call police if students arrive inebriated and unruly.

4. Switch up your training tactics on slow days

Partnering with a new employee to ensure meal-by-meal consistency may be an effective way to train when tickets are coming in steadily—but what about times when your dining room is dead? The University of Buffalo’s Nicosia has a few solutions. “Write 10 items on a 3-by-5 card that are needed to stock the station, and have the trainee go find them,” he says. The trainee can ask other co-workers where to find the products, turning the exercise into an introduction session as well as a great way to orient the worker to the kitchen space.

5. Play off the university’s overall branding plan to maintain consistency and clout

Coming up with a portfolio of logos for every scenario accomplishes little when it comes to brand recognition, says Jennifer Gilmore, director of marketing and communications for campus enterprises at North Carolina State University. Instead, align your marketing program with the university’s: Use color to communicate categories (green for sustainability, purple for nutrition, etc.), and invest in high-quality imagery—even if that means buying a camera and learning to shoot your own photos. For more on NC State’s branding, click here.


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