Chefs put new strategies in play to adapt to the changing foodservice scene

Steal these ideas from healthcare and C&U pros and put them to work in your operation.
Cook in kitchen
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It’s not surprising that labor emerged as chefs’ top challenge during a roundtable held at FoodService Director’s annual Culinary Council Summit at the University of Michigan last month.

Close behind was the supply chain and the push for plant-based menu items, according to the healthcare and C&U chefs participating.

More surprising, perhaps, are some of the creative ways these pros are meeting current challenges—starting with the labor shortage.

Adapting with the times

Poaching from another department may be one solution.

As I walk through the hospital, I always have my eyes open looking for employees that might like an opportunity to learn how to cook in a professional setting, the ones working hard already,” says Jared Hunter, executive chef for MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. When he spots a hard worker, he may lure them to the foodservice department with the promise of training and a fulfilling job.

Employee retention is as challenging and important as filling positions, the chefs agree. “You hire one, you lose two,” says Kue Her, executive chef at the University of California at Davis. The university’s foodservice department is focusing on a retention program by re-evaluating wages and providing rewards and incentives to tempt workers to stay.

Onboarding is crucial to retaining employees—especially managers, says Chris Gray, Midwest regional culinary director for Sodexo Universities. "We put our new managers into a three-week intensive course hosted by one of our accounts. They spend two weeks rotating through every department, learning from the subject matter experts, and then one additional week in their specialized area leading the operations at that account.” 

Student labor—or the lack thereof—is also an issue in college dining. There are fewer students willing to work in foodservice, and those who want a job are clueless about how to apply, says Polly Knutson, assistant director of dining and hospitality services at University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Once on board, “they don’t know how to smile,” she adds, making training on the hospitality component necessary.

In the past, foodservice departments have tapped temp services to take up the slack. But now, “you have to hire triple the number of people you need to fill enough hours,” says Scott Sundermeyer, regional executive chef for Trinity Health out of Livonia, Mich. “And we’re getting more grandmothers.”

Creating a menu around supply and plants

Supply chain shortages seem to be easing a bit, but communicating with customers is key, says James Dravenack, retail food service manager at Rush University Hospital in Chicago. “People have gotten pretty understanding about shortages and substitutions.”

Jill Flores, executive chef at Montana State University in Billings, has overcome supply shortages by sourcing local foods and ingredients.

The chefs have all seen an increased demand for plant-based and vegan food, but it’s not universal across customers. Doctors and nurses are on board with a plant-based movements, but patients are still a hard sell, even for simple items like power bowls,” says Hunter. 

At UC Davis, Her is focusing on putting more vegetables on the plate. “I’d rather see students eat veggies than plant-based protein in the shape of a chicken leg,” he says.

But Sodexo’s Chef Gray finds it’s more the norm to serve plant-based meat analogs. “This is the way the world is going,” he says.

Sustainability, global cuisines (especially global comfort dishes) and sharing the story behind the food are other areas the chefs are paying attention to as they develop and introduce new menu items.  



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