Assessing an operation is vital for a foodservice consultant, but clients often have difficulty in understanding the importance of such a step. In this blog post, Greg Christian discusses the steps his team took in assessing Nardin Academy's foodservice operation and the lessons they learned.
Assessing an operation is vital for a foodservice consultant, but it can be difficult for clients to realize the importance of this initial step. Many kitchens define quality by their profit and loss statements and use this data to self-assess. It may seem easier to move forward without a deep evaluation, but this can result in major setbacks once a new project is underway.
Food was not the impetus to redefine Nardin Academy's food program. The school's drive to teach social justice and environmental stewardship served as the driving factor for this initiative. Environment turned into health, health turned into food, and the school began to wonder why people had come to accept cafeteria food when they demanded excellence in academics, athletics and the arts. The Nardin administration began to realize that its cafeteria was not an island unto itself, and it was ready to explore that more.
After our initial conversations, Business Manager Leslie Johnson saw that an assessment would help Nardin understand how the food the cafeteria serves aligns with the rest of the school. It was clear that the food quality was low and fewer students had been purchasing lunch from the years before, but the question was why and what could be done to change this.
The assessment was a two day on-site with one of the Beyond Green team members. Assessing a kitchen includes four main components: observe daily operations, evaluate design and equipment, analyze receipts, and survey customers and staff.
When observing lunch periods, most of the food that was prepared was frozen or canned. There was little to no standardization in nutrition, recipes, or costing — mainly because the foodservice provider did not need to meet USDA standards at the school. Many students opted out of buying lunch. Those that bought lunch were served à la carte, able to choose from a variety of entrees and sides. Three to four entrees were served each day. This slowed down the service lines, which were also crowded with junk food.
Students were given disposable Styrofoam plates and cutlery on a reusable plastic tray. The trays were collected and washed, plastic bottles were recycled, and everything else was thrown away in one of the numerous garbage bins. I later found out that garbage in Buffalo is incinerated, a process that can emit harmful particles and creates a toxic by-product that requires additional waste miles and a toxic waste landfill elsewhere. Having an asthmatic daughter, I question the thinking behind this.
When we walked through the kitchen and storage, what stood out most was that there was no walk-in cooler. That meant that most everything came from the freezer. The existing equipment was underutilized and dated, but things like the oven were left on all day with only five to seven pizzas being made. We identified and outlined which pieces of equipment should be replaced but suggested that the menu, processes, and sustainability goals be determined before redesigning the kitchen, not vice-versa.
We looked at six months of receipts and analyzed both food and non-food items, mainly cleaning products and disposable supplies. More than 80 percent of the food purchased was processed. We determined that for the same cost per lunch the cafeteria could offer more preferable foods. The analysis of non-food items gave us the raw data we would need to determine the ROI of purchasing reusable ware.
The students and staff had expressed concern with the amount of waste and suggested moving to reusable service ware (presented as an additional $0.50 per lunch by the foodservice provider). The students said they eat healthier at home and wanted more options at the salad bar. Most of the high school seniors brought a lunch to school three to five times per week and felt the food was too expensive given the quality. Students also felt the service lines were too slow and prevented them from purchasing food. While some of the entrees appeared to be healthy, staff was concerned about students making poor lunch choices.
The main takeaways from the assessment were the size of the menu, the number of processed foods, and the abundance of disposables. The leaders at Nardin Academy were not shocked by the results although most people have a moment of reflection when seeing a cafeteria defined by numbers. They had to decide what to do from here.
In my next post, we will meet the leadership team at Nardin Academy and learn how they began to evaluate options after the assessment.