Finding new ways to engage customers with dining services and support local vendors.
Developing a comprehensive culinary and educational event around one local foundation of the food supply—the honeybee.
How it's done
Educating guests about the variety of local products served is common. What’s not so common is developing an entire event around one of those items and showcasing it across the menu.
Fresh and local food already were on the menu at Highmark’s cafés in Pittsburgh; Camp Hill, Pa.; and Wilmington, Del., but it was a suggestion from an employee that put honey in the spotlight for the company’s upcoming local product showcase. “Originally, it started out as a local farm-to-café day that we were going to do,” explains Cameron Clegg, executive chef with Parkhurst Dining. “One of the employees here at Highmark mentioned that [the same date] was National Honey Bee Day, could we embellish on that?”
Clegg and Lenny DeMartino, general manager with Parkhurst Dining at Highmark Pittsburgh, were in charge of building the program and creating buzz. “Basically, one-third of all food produced has something to do with the honeybee in one way or other,” Clegg explains. “I used a website and went through and found information on what honeybees are actually directly working with, like mixed greens, almonds, blueberries, cranberries and cucumbers and made sure I had all those items on our menus.”
The final menu for the three locations included items such as a salad of mixed greens with toasted almonds, blueberries, cranberries and cucumbers topped with a sweet onion vinaigrette; pumpkin chili and creamy avocado soup; bee-pollinated almond-crusted Alaskan cod with broccoli and cauliflower; and grapefruit smoothies. Signage was placed at each station to educate guests and help them understand the impact honeybees have on the production of the various items.
“The comments that we got were great: ‘I didn’t realize that about honeybees’ and ‘I’m glad we did this; how can I learn more about bees?’” DeMartino says. “Chef did a fantastic job planning [the menu] out first and thinking about what foods would sell here in our café and relating them to pollination.”
In addition to showcasing their own food, the team invited local vendors whose products are impacted by honeybees to feature their items at the day’s event. Five vendors participated, including a meat company and a produce farm. As an added bonus, the team learned during the planning process that a Highmark Pittsburgh employee was also an avid beekeeper and invited her—and her bees—to participate. The contained bees were positioned at the entrance of the Pittsburgh café, with their keeper on hand to answer questions.
Communication with dining services staff was important as well. “We needed to be sure that everyone understood how the event originated and why it was going to be held,” DeMartino says. “Once they understood the purpose, they were more into it and excited about it. We wanted our staff to be enthusiastic and instill our passion and to have them become passionate about what local foods we pride ourselves in offering daily.”