Hundreds of college and university FSDs, dietitians, chefs and more converged last week in Nashville for NACUFS’ annual conference. While there was plenty of delicious food to be found across the city, FoodService Director’s top finds included numerous operational takeaways. Here’s a sampling.
1. Decadent descriptions make healthy choices boom
The traditional thinking behind menu labeling assumes that the more information people have about their food, including calorie counts, the healthier choices they’ll make. But research shows that’s not the case, says Jackie Bertoldo, senior manager of nutrition, performance and wellness at Stanford University. An experiment at the Palo Alto, Calif., school’s dining halls tested a variety of descriptions for the same vegetable dish over the course of a semester; those labeled with indulgent descriptions were chosen 25% more often than those without.
The study also found a significant decrease in selection if a dish had healthy labels. So operators should brainstorm with their chefs to come up with catchy names and delicious descriptions, Bertoldo says, keeping in mind things like the emotions they want the dish to elicit, what senses it should excite and how it was cooked.
2. Don't scrimp on performance management
The University of Missouri’s dining services had been focusing on talent acquisition rather than retention, and the turnover rate was spiking, say staffers Nancy Monteer and Kim Stonecipher. So in 2014, the department began twice-yearly workshops on performance management, making sure staff remains on board with its mission, vision and values. Also important: “As a leader, your job is not crisis management, and your people should not be firefighters,” Monteer says. Organization and stability are critical for success.
3. Spend money to make money
At the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, every parent eats for free at every dining facility, adding up to about 60,000 meals. While that may sound like a ton of lost revenue, it’s an investment in the department’s relationship with both the parents and their students, says Garett DiStefano, director of residential dining. That contributes to an 82% to 83% retention of four-year students on meal plans, equivalent to $12 millon in revenue.
“It’s very profitable to make sure we engage with parents and families because of those two additional years on the meal plan,” he says. Parents also are comfortable turning to DiStefano and Executive Director of Auxiliary Enterprises Ken Toong with questions. “If there’s an issue, my face is in front of them,” DiStefano says. “They know it’s Garett; they know it’s Ken. You want to be the first call, because they trust you to solve the problem.”
4. Cold brew is the new black (coffee)
From nitro on tap to canned and carbonated with ginger, cold-brew coffee dominated nearly every caffeine brand’s booth at the vendor fair. From cloyingly sweet to plain to downright weird flavors, it seems there’s something for every palate. Other big trends included fruit and vegetable-based prepackaged bars, grab-and-go bone broths and the continued proliferation of Asian flavors.
5. Treat social media as an essential
“The [return on investment] on social media is that your business will actually be in business in five years,” DiStefano says. While that statement might seem extreme, it’s an important consideration as students primarily prefer electronic communication. “All it takes is a couple people believing that you won’t get back to them on social media, and that whole system of feedback is invalid,” he adds.
6. Your integrity as a leader matters
While it is important for employees to feel comfortable coming to their bosses with issues and even feel a connection to higher-ups, FSDs need to maintain some separation, Monteer and Stonecipher say. “You’re no longer the passenger, you’re the driver,” Stonecipher says. “Maybe you don’t have the right to enjoy employee pity parties or blame others for problems in the department. You have to take responsibility, stop placing blame and model the correct behavior.”