The 12 Days After Christmas Break

Written by Milt Miller

Holiday Break is here. Staff members are ready for the much-needed time to relieve stress and relax. Most places I’ve visited, over the years, are the same in that the stress builds up, team members bicker and tensions are so thick, you could cut them with a knife. Everyone is ready for a break. Students are excited and sales drop off a bit. A time to re-set is definitely a necessity, to restore peace and good will among everyone. Enjoy the rest, you have earned it! From the end of August until the break it has been rush, rush, rush. Open-up, Free and Reduced Meal Applications, verification, budgets, guidelines, you know the drill. It’s almost over and you can relax and cruise through the rest of the school year, right? Wouldn’t it be great if that was true?

I always hated coming back after an extended break. One I had to come back, and two, it was difficult to get re-motivated. One night, years ago, I was driving to the mall with my daughter. We were singing the Twelve Days of Christmas, when and idea popped into my head, that has saved me a lot of time and made my life less stressful. The idea was, that if I could develop a twelve-step plan to prepare for the remainder of the school year, it would be easier to get re-motivated. I called it the “Twelve Days After Christmas Break Plan.” You may already have a plan, but perhaps this may be of some help to you and it is my Holliday gift to all who read further.

This plan served as a reminder of everything left to do, once back to work. It gave me a starting point and re-energized me and got me back on track. The plan started the first day back and provided a check list of things to do each day until it was completed (usually twelve days as other things arose during this period). Each day and a brief explanation are listed below:

First Day: Check all is ready. Make sure all technology is working properly and is up to date. Ensure all deliveries have been made and all necessary products are on hand. Meet with staff to discuss menu changes and any other changes in operating procedures, they needed to know about to perform their jobs. Discuss any product changes, marketing strategies, or upcoming special events.

Second Day: Review all financials from opening day until break to see where we sit based on the budget. It was always good to know where one is to ascertain where one needs to go next to meet budget. Make changes in strategies necessary to move towards meeting or exceeding budget. Develop plans to get back on track or stay on track moving forward to the end of the year.

Third Day: Review Free and Reduced Meal Application and Verification results, to see how these processes have affected your operation financially, thus far. Are you where you should be or are you behind percentage wise? Did any students loose benefits, due to not turning in a new application or have any lost benefits due to verification? Is bad debt accumulating, due to loss of benefits? From strategies to eliminate un-paid lunch balances and review with staff how to handle the situation. Not doing this can result in Lunch Shaming and bad press for your operation, not to mention upset students, parents, and administrators.

Fourth Day: Compare last year’s, this year’s, and next year’s budgets. Since many states require preliminary budgets to be completed and submitted by end of December, next year’s should be already started. Compare trends, shifts in enrollment, sales, and projections, based on history. Do any changes need to be made? This gives you talking points to discuss with your Business Manager and Superintendent. Point out anything that may have been missed during the initial development period.

Fifth Day: Review and develop special promotions and marketing for the remainder of the year. Once you know where you are budget wise, look for ways to increase participation and customer satisfaction. Prepare a plan to implement these strategies and promotions.

Sixth Day: Meet with your management team and key staff members to discuss your current position year to date, up coming promotions and marketing strategies. Discuss service delivery issues, participation, and goals for the remaining year. Ask their opinions and get them involved in what needs to be accomplished. People work better and the work place is less stressful, when everyone is on board with where you are currently and what needs to be accomplished.

Seventh Day: Meet with Student Focus Groups. Discuss how they perceive your program at this point, where you are missing the mark, and what they would like to see in the future. When customers are included in the process, you will receive much good advice and continued support, if you follow through on some of their suggestions. Adjust your plans, strategies, and goals to meet customer needs.

Eighth Day: Begin evaluating current products and start testing new ones for next year’s menu. March and April are right around the corner and you might as well get a leg up on figuring out Commodities and commercial products needed for next year. Look for shifting dining trends and changes in consumer needs.

Ninth Day: Begin developing next year’s menu. You’ve started looking at possible product changes, trend shifts, and consumer needs, so why not get started putting the menu together. Better to take your time and by March be ready to begin preparing bids and ordering commodities.

Tenth Day: Meet with the administration and the board. Let them know where you currently stand, where you plan to go, and how you plan to get there. Include them in your plans, ask for advice, and make them part of the team. Nothing is more helpful than administrators and board members that are in your corner and are kept informed.

Eleventh Day: Evaluate customer service and identify opportunities to improve. Take a hard look at what is really happening in your operations and determine what training needs to be reinforced. Is what you think is happening really happening? If not, develop plans to improve.

Twelfth Day: Set-up a time to meet with your staff. Discuss everything from the first day to the eleventh day and get their feedback. Let them know what needs to be done to have a successful year. Be open, honest, and ask for their help. Everyone works better as a team following a plan. Especially if the goals and objectives are clear and attainable. Implement your plans and drive on to the end of the year.

Once I started following this process every year got easier to manage and my staff was happier, at least until mid-April, but that’s another story. Implementing this plan did however, help me to avoid the pit-falls of the Twelve Days of Christmas, as I envisioned them. I avoided the twelve ladies dancing (staff upset and hopping mad), the eleven lord a leaping (administrators and board members upset because they were in the dark), ten drummers (parents beating on my door to complain about students with un-paid accounts), nine pipers piping (students complaining about bad food and service), eight maids a milking (staff standing around not knowing what to do with their time), seven swans a swimming (sales slipping down stream due to not meeting customer expectations), six geese a laying (goose eggs or zero revenues due to drops in participation), I got the five golden rings (stars for great products and service that was relevant to my customers), four calling birds (parents calling to say they liked what we were doing with school lunch), and my three French hens (three managers), two turtle doves (administrative assistants), and I was as happy as a partridge in a pear tree. Happy Holidays!

Milt Miller is Director of K-12 Operations at Food Service Solutions, Inc. Throughout his 33 years in the food service industry he has managed, operated and assisted food service programs to become successful. For a school food service operation consultation, contact Milt at

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