Want better food? Do these 3 things now.

14 Jan Want better food? Do these 3 things now.

We hear from principals who want their students to like the cafeteria food. Business managers want costs controlled. Company leaders desire higher quality ingredients within their existing budget. Parents expect their kids to eat healthier. Board members ask for local food on the menus.

The solutions to a myriad of food service concerns come from three core steps.

1. Talk to your customers (a lot)

Authentic listening forms the foundation of your program and makes all your efforts effective. With the attitude of “we know” what our customers want, you have the potential to lose them before they ever walk through the food service line.

We start by talking to all the stakeholder groups asking what’s working and not working about their current program. We also ask what they would do different if they had a magic wand. We talk to cooks, eaters, administrators, board members, community members, and anyone connected to the food program.

We taste test new menu items and ask what the customer their opinion. Then we start making new food, asking every step of the way what the customer thinks and how it could be better. We refine and refine and refine the recipe. We do this for every new dish. Then we continually introduce new foods to keep the cooks engaged and the customers happy.

2. Measure overproduction

Most cooks have to guess at how many meals to make each day. Ideally, they are reviewing data trends to best determine the exact quantity needed. In reality however, most cooks pull a number out of thin air. When asked how the number was selected, we find “that’s the way it’s always been”.

In the Beyond Green kitchen in Chicago and some of the places where we’ve consulted, not a single ounce of food is left over at the end of service. Eliminating leftover food saves time: the time it takes to repackage the leftover food, store the leftover food, think about how to reuse the leftover food, bring out the leftover food, and reheat the leftover food.

Eliminating leftover food saves money. Waste in the garbage is money. Many kitchens serve canned or frozen vegetables which lose appeal after a single use. This food tends to get thrown away. Additionally, some foods are not reusable or are not safe to reuse after sitting out for the length of service.

To end up with zero waste, we keep records of how much food is left by weight at the end of service. We keep track of this by food item (i.e. burgers, pasta, pizza, etc.). Most kitchens track leftover data by date making it difficult to compare the previous 10 burger days. The goal is to look at how many people purchased chicken tetrazzini the last several times of service and begin to predict exactly how many people will come to eat.

3. Lessen menu variety

Many of us have that one great dish, sometimes two or three, that we make when company comes over. The crowd goes wild every time. The recipe perfected over years is manageable for our skill and the time we have to prepare it.

While the number of delicious dishes expands, the same concepts apply to institutional kitchens. Variety on a menu comes from attempts to please customers with more food instead of better food. Have you ever been to a restaurant with a huge menu and nothing looked appealing? Or somewhere that only had a few options and you wanted each one?

Make fewer recipes that everyone loves. We cut menus from eight to two options overnight. With fabulous food, no one notices. Customers win with food they enjoy eating. Cooks win with time to make the food. Administrators win with increased sales.

Master these three things and you are on your way to better food and achieving all your food service goals.

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