Taking Stock ‒ Plan for Next Year Now!
By: Beth Collins
Spring is a time of renewal, and in school food service kitchens, I often find that teams are counting down the days before they split for the summer. Before you lose focus in the bright sunshine, carve out some specific time for yourself and your teams to reflect and examine your department to assess where you can make tweaks. Menus, procurement and staffing are the three heavy hitters and if you are considering revisions to or the addition of salad bars to your program, systematically addressing how they will impact your overall operation is essential.
As a first step, bring your key team members together for a brainstorming session for more structured planning. Review your year ‒ are there goals that you’ve met? Is it time to create new ones? What areas of your program do you want to address to improve efficiencies and ultimately participation? What new goals are floating to the top? What data do you need to analyze to help prioritize your next steps?
Participation is the biggest indicator of success in our school meal programs, so having your meal counts at-hand are essential for any planning process. In the management area of The Lunch Box on the meal counts page you will find an excellent meal count and revenue tracking tool that takes very little time to maintain and provides you an immediate status report of how your meal counts are trending against your planned budget. This monitoring process is a foundational management exercise and should accompany every move you make in your operation.
Salad bars are a program enhancement that many food service departments are tackling. Being strategic about introducing and sustaining the addition of salad bars to your program is essential. If you already have bars in your district there is always room for improvement. Ask yourself: Do you want to enhance what you are doing now? Improve your standard operating procedures? Start vegetable production centrally? Do you want to replace equipment or improve your marketing strategies? The list goes on and on because a salad bar is not just a simple add-on to your existing program.
Salad Bar Site Audits
Whether you are rolling out your first salad bar or want to determine some new efficiencies for your current operation, you can utilize the salad bar site assessment tool to address the critical points. Each school location may have unique attributes that you must address to ensure that your salad bar implementation is a success. The key variables that you are assessing in your site audits are:
- What type of operational model is used in the district and for a particular school? Central production to satellite, solo production (the site operates independently), or a combination (some schools are independent, some are satellites).
- Current site productivity (meals per labor hour)
- Age groups served
- Number of meals currently served (ADP)
- Breakdown of participation by eligibility
- Sinks for food prep
- Tables/prep area available
- Servery area and type
- Flow of diners and line speed in current model
- Location and flexibility to move the POS
- Delivery access
- Vendor (for produce) relationship currently
You can use the meal count tracking information in meetings with school site staff so they connect day-to-day performance to the overall results of their work.
For food service teams, the value of detailed analysis prior to your launch, as well as regular tracking of the program is key. This includes considering your customers and the kind of experience you are providing to them in the dining rooms: Have you taken the steps needed to educate the students about the salad bars? Does your staff market the bar to the kids or are they feeling a bit “tired” in their routines as well? Does everyone know what all of those ingredients are? Do you need to host tastings or a Rainbow Day to kick start changes you’ve made to refresh your meal program and energize your team and the students? Are you informing the students what your salad bar menu is each day?
So before your team leaves for the summer, take the time to be self-reflective. The work you put in now are the seeds you sow for a fresh, new School Year 2016.
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