Attendees gathered on Sunday in Atlanta for FoodService Director’s annual MenuDirections conference, a three-day event serving up business-building ideas for noncommercial operators. Read on to see some insights gained during the conference’s first day.
1. Beware a total menu overhaul
Chef Dan Giusti learned an important lesson in his early days of running Brigaid, the company he launched that puts chefs in K-12 schools: Don’t mess with the menu too much.
When Brigaid partnered with New London Public Schools in Connecticut, Giusti noticed many students defaulting to the classic PB&J for lunch every day, he told FoodService Director Editor-At-Large Peter Romeo. With the goal of pushing more ambitious food options, Brigaid took the sandwich off the menu. The move upset parents and students, and Giusti said the change led to some students skipping lunch altogether. So the PB&J returned.
“The last time of day kids should be stressed out is at lunch,” Giusti said, advising that operators offer more complex dishes alongside staples. Some kids may be more adventurous, but others may want to stick with what they know, he said, and operators have to find a balance that makes as many diners happy as possible.
2. The importance of cooking in schools
When asked whether Brigaid would consider using commissary kitchens, Giusti said there are many benefits to that food prep option. But, he said, “I still think there needs to be some aspect of cooking in the schools.” Kids benefit from seeing some part of the preparation, even if it’s just finishing the dish. And it helps staff feel engaged, too.
3. Healthier indulgence
In his address on the state of the foodservice industry, Technomic Principal Joe Pawlak cited the rise of better-for-you ingredients that can stand in for more indulgent items, such as carob for chocolate and coconut sugar for standard sugar.
One formidable ingredient to watch in this area: jackfruit. The fruit can be substituted for proteins such as pork and is projected to grow on menus by 60% in the next two years, according to a Technomic forecast. Technomic is a sister company of FSD.
4. One factor in higher food costs
A phenomenon that may not spring to mind as a driver of higher food costs is the growing shortage of truck drivers. With a shortage of folks to drive products across state lines, some drivers are being incentivized with annual salaries of $85,000 or more, Pawlak said, which is increasing overall shipping costs and trickling down to the price of ingredients.
5. How to win a carnival prize
Attendees unwound at the end of the day with an event at Atlanta’s Ponce City Market, where they could sample a host of dishes, make new friends and try their hand at traditional carnival and arcade games such as skee-ball.