20 standout ideas from foodservice operators
Operators are full of smart solutions that cover everything from cutting waste to retaining staff. Read on for 20 steal-worthy ideas submitted to FSD so far this year.Submit your idea
1. Create a call button
We created a F.A.N. (Fresh Assistance Now) button that gives our team members an easy way to contact management by text when they need assistance. The call button system also notifies the team members when someone has responded to the help request. There are F.A.N. buttons at each of the workstations in the Maryville University facility, as well as by the ordering kiosks.
Director of Marketing, Fresh Ideas Food Service Management
2. Show off sweets from your bakery
Our catering and bakery teams have hosted an Ultimate Dessert Event for the past two years. Both years, we had students come right at the beginning and stay until the very end just catching up with friends because they loved the vibe of the music, delicious desserts, lights and ambiance. We love showcasing what our BC Bakery is capable of, and while students see some of our products in the units, they were blown away to find out that our own bakery was making all these higher-end items right on campus.
We had about 70 extra walk-ins beyond the presold tickets. Students walked by and were so excited by the smell and ambiance that they stopped what they were doing and joined us. It was a really fun event to plan and execute.
Catering Operations Event Manager
3. Give back to the community
Once a month, families and community members are invited to a free dinner in our high school cafeteria, with no agenda but to build relationships and have a family meal. This inspired idea meets multiple needs in our rural, low-income community, where food insecurity and social isolation impact many households. Each month we have a different community organization or group (Community Bible Church, the school board, the parent-teacher organization, Concrete Town Council or high school staff, to name a few) provide the meal, volunteers and promotion for the meal.
Concrete School District
4. Give some Thursday thanks
We could not excel without our partners, and so often they do not get recognized for their part in our success. In an effort to show gratitude publicly, we developed #Thursdaythanks on our social media channels. Weekly or biweekly, we feature our vendors, farmers, facility staff, teachers, community partners and more. These folks are part of our team and we are thrilled to give them the recognition they deserve.
Food Service Director
Waltham Public Schools
5. Host a cooking class
We began hosting weekday cooking classes at one of our cafes that is only open over the weekends. Campus dining is always looking for new ways to engage the campus community, and as a polytechnic university with a learn-by-doing motto, a cooking class made perfect sense. We had a great location that had some availability, and we had chefs who were happy to share their expertise. As the classes received marketing support and attendees started talking about their experiences, they gained in popularity, and now we’re taking reservations.
California Polytechnic State University
San Luis Obispo, Calif.
6. Cut waste by making dog treats
I created "Waste Not Wag a Lot" dog treats that use excess back-of-house food, such as sweet potatoes, turkey bacon, carrot peels, peas, oatmeal and farro porridge. I stash leftovers, such as an extra pot of oatmeal from breakfast or that last pan of sweet potatoes, in the freezer. When I have 16 quarts’ worth, I make a batch of treats, adding flour and egg as the only “new” food. Each batch makes a few hundred treats (scooped with a disher and baked until nearly crunchy).
We donate most of the treats to our county humane society, which sells them for $4 a dozen and keeps 100% of the proceeds. The treats are very popular with all of the dogs (and cats, too). Pet owners are equally enthusiastic about the all-natural, healthy treats, and it keeps a lot of excess food out of the trash cans.
University of Wisconsin-Superior
7. Use dehydrated produce to pump up flavor
I dehydrate leftover fruit and vegetable peels and scraps and grind them into powder to mix with salt or sugars, depending on the flavor profile. I use the powders in menu items such as beverages and as a nice finish on roasted or steamed veggies. It helps to cut down on sodium and refined sugars while adding extra flavor. Some flavor pairings I do are lemon and salt, strawberry and sugar, espresso and brown sugar, and dried chile and salt.
Area Manager, Guckenheimer
Douglas County Google Data Center
Lithia Springs, Ga.
8. Send handwritten notes to staff
I send a handwritten birthday card to all our team members. It makes them feel connected and creates a family atmosphere.
Executive Director of Food and Nutrition Services
Cobb County School District
9. Create a FAQ master doc
We are a small district and I am the only foodservice manager, overseeing four schools with on-site kitchens and two schools with catered services. I do not have administrative support or supervisors, so everything comes directly to my attention. I was receiving emails from district staff asking me the same questions over and over again, and it took me a lot of time to respond. I realized that all of the information was available to staff but in all different locations (websites, Google Docs, Google Forms, menus).
I determined that creating a Food Service FAQ Google Doc with information and links to needed documents would be an organized approach to getting information into the hands of school staff that need it. The doc contains information on things such as meal pricing, menus, applications, meal debiting procedures, special diets and foodservice staff contact information. The Google Doc link is shared with faculty in their weekly staff newsletter, as well as with all new staff.
Food Service Manager
Intermediate School District 287
10. Develop a clean-label checklist
In order to make sure we are receiving clean-label ingredients, we have developed a clean-label checklist and distributed it to our current manufacturers. Any new product must meet that criteria.
Assistant Supervisor of Culinary Development
Cincinnati Public Schools
11. Play behavior bingo with staff
I was looking for a way to reward staff for good behavior in a way that doesn't make the rest of the team envious. I decided to create bingo cards for each of the staff, where each slot represents a good behavior such as helping a teammate or encouraging a student to make a healthy choice.
If teachers see a staff member exhibit that behavior, the employee can mark it off on their card, and if they get bingo, they win a prize. We have one winner per week. I gather prizes such as Yeti cups and gift certificates from local businesses and email the bingo cards out to all the teachers so they can help us catch the employees exhibiting the behaviors on the card. It went over really well and was fun!
Child Nutrition Director
Drew Central Schools
12. Have chefs create a signature dish
I encourage all of the chefs that I work with to have a Chef Spotlight, where they can create that one special dish that inspires or describes their background in food and offer this as a tasting plate in their locations on a weekly or monthly basis. This helps the chefs stay creative, engaged and connected to the guests through their passion: the food.
Regional Chef, Sodexo
Seattle Pacific University
13. Give study-abroad students a taste of the USA
We hosted study-abroad students from China for a cooking demo highlighting traditional American food. Our chefs prepared dishes from the Midwest, Northeast, Cali-Southwest and Southeast for participants to taste.
Allergy Outreach Coordinator
North Carolina State University
14. Give diners a voice
We added a food truck to our residential dining program. The menu changes weekly, and the students vote on which menu they want.
Campus Executive Chef
The College of William & Mary
15. Transform unused space into a garden
We turned a courtyard that had formerly been a smokers lounge into an herb and vegetable garden, where we raise items that are used in our retail cafeteria, The Harvest Kitchen. Because the courtyard can be seen through two hallways, staff and visitors get to experience our garden firsthand while walking through the hospital. In addition, the initial garden soil was donated by a local commercial composting facility we partner with to compost our disposable products used in The Harvest Kitchen. Hospital staff love that we are actually showing the full circle of life through composting and gardening.
Director of Nutritional Services
AdventHealth Shawnee Mission
16. Swap out salt for ranch seasoning
We use dry ranch seasoning as our sodium profile in many of our menu items, such as greens, corn and fries. The flavor profile is exceptional, and it fits within federal school nutrition guidelines.
Clayton County Public Schools
17. Invoke stealth health
We’ve adopted more of a stealth-health approach when trying to get our customers to eat healthy. We got rid of signage that promotes options as healthy. For example, we won’t label vegan lasagna as vegan lasagna. Instead, we encourage diners to make healthy choices by making those options less expensive.
Associate Director of Culinary Services and Business Operations
18. Have families submit home recipes
We have families from different ethnic backgrounds submit recipes from home. We then tweak the recipes to fit school nutrition guidelines and test them out at different schools throughout the district. If students respond positively, they are added to our permanent menu.
Director of Food and Nutrition Services
Cambridge Public Schools
19. Spotlight a nutrition topic each month
We have a monthly feature called Healthy Plate that highlights a specific nutrition topic, such as protein. We have flyers in the cafe highlighting several menu items and have a sampling station where diners can try them out.
Food Service Manager
20. Host a cook-off for a cause
We did a food event called Dining for the Dawson Inn with Chefs Who Care to raise money for Dawson Inn, a nonprofit hotel on our campus where patients and families can stay at discounted or free rates when receiving treatment or visiting from out of town. Myself and the inn manager invited 12 local chefs and restaurants and participated in a cook-off.
We had local restaurants, hospital chefs (we have four hospitals we run here) and the local high school culinary team participate. The chefs could choose either an appetizer, entree or dessert to serve. There was a cash bar as well as tip jars on all chefs’ tables to raise additional funds. To add some competition, there were prizes awarded for first-, second- and third-place “peoples’ favorite” dishes, and the winner was crowned top chef. We raised close to $20,000 and had a blast.
System Director and Executive Chef
Centra Health System