Five final insights from MenuDirections 2015

More than 100 operators from around the U.S. gathered in Memphis, Tenn., for the three-day MenuDirections 2015 conference.

If you weren’t one of the lucky ones to travel, here are five final takeaways for your non-commercial foodservice operation.

1. Embrace the Anticipatory Issues Management mantra.

Or as Michael Donahue, co-founder and chief brand officer of LYFE Kitchen, alluded to during his presentation on social responsibility, be prepared for what customers expect and solve problems as soon as issues arise.

“There is no such thing as a crisis in your business,” Donahue says. “You should know everything that goes in with your business. Why would you ever get caught by surprises?”

Still, companies and institutions find themselves in crisis mode because they failed to anticipate.

It’s a four-stage process that Donahue describes as: emergence, tipping event, crisis management and resolution. “The best opportunity to save resources, save cost and reduce risk is to deal with issues as they emerge,” he says. “It is no longer that the big eat the small. It’s the fast eat the slow.”

2. Catering is becoming less about the food and more about the presentation.

Operators are finding out that how a catered event is staged—not just the type of food that is being served—is playing a bigger role in the event’s success.

“The people we serve already know that we serve great food,” says Damian Monticello, corporate hospitality services manager for Jacksonville, Fla.-based Florida Blue, which is a member of the Blue Cross Blue Shield System. “They expect us up our game with the quality of the equipment, the way the food is displayed.”

Terry Baker, director of dining services at Oklahoma State University, echoes those sentiments. “Chefs think it’s all about the food,” Baker says. “Planners think it’s all about the set-up. We have to learn to blend the two to really wow our customers.”

3. The model for long-term care is changing, and younger patients are the reason.

The Association of Nutrition and Foodservice Professionals says although long-term care historically referred to nursing homes and the elderly, that is no longer the sole purview.

Jeremy Manners, a certified dietary manager and foodservice director for the Platinum Ridge Center for Rehabilitation and Healing in Brackenridge, Pa., says that as growing number of younger people come into long-term care facilities for substance abuse problems or physical rehab, they are bringing with them different expectations for foodservice.

This group of 30-40-somethings is looking for more variety in their food, more flexibility in meal times, and more on-demand cooking, Manners says. As a result, long-term care operators are shifting from central kitchens to smaller, more “local” kitchens closer to the points of service.  Many facilities are also considering adding carts, kiosks, snack shops and c-stores, food courts and alcohol service.

4. Is there a market for chocolate wine?

Dr. James Painter, a registered dietician who is professor at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Ill., offered two easy ways for people to become healthier: consume cocoa and drink red wine.

In his “Sensual Nutrition” presentation, Painter explained the health benefits of each. He focused on the phenolic and flavonoid content—antioxidant properties—of cocoa, noting that just two tablespoons of cocoa powder can cause blood vessels to dilate for several hours, improving blood flow. The caveat is that the cocoa must be unprocessed, because Dutch-processed cocoa, commonly performed to remove the bitterness in cocoa, also removes the flavonoids.

“And wine is even better than cocoa,” Painter adds. “When you consume red wine, the dilation effect can last for days.”

5. There are few things operators love more, than visiting with other operators.

Despite threats of dangerous weather moving into Memphis, Tenn., on the last day of MenuDirections, more than 50 operators stuck around to attend one of three operational tours planned as a wrap-up.

Operators had their choice of visiting the foodservice programs at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the University of Memphis or Shelby County Schools. “Any time I can get the opportunity to go into someone’s operation and take back some ideas, I’m going to take advantage of it,” a foodservice director told me.



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