Start Preparing for Next School Year

Written by Milt Miller – April is just around the corner! Take some time now to think about the training and enrichment needed by your staff. What are the problem areas of this school year as a whole? Are these problem areas due to a lack of training? Make a list of current issues and look at how improved training and communication can alleviate them. I used to give my staff a short quiz each year to assess the areas where we were weak as a program and would plan my training and enrichment around those weaknesses.

The implementation of the Final Rule on Professional Standards for Food Service Professionals now makes these trainings mandatory; so why not put this mandatory training to good use? Six (6) hours of training are required per year for fulltime and four (4) hours for part time staff. There are many areas required by these new rules that will help to overcome the knowledge gaps that hurt program performance. Customer service, marketing, proper use of standardized recipes and production records, cooking techniques, and proper handling of product to insure top quality are just a few areas that many programs take for granted or have skipped completely in the past. One of the most overlooked areas is meal identification and this one hurts most programs financially every year.

Take a long hard look at you staff’s needs and select programming that will help them and your operation grow. There are state programs available like the Train the Trainer Program that will teach directors and managers how to train their staff. I know, you are so busy you just can’t spare the time for training. Well how can you afford not to and now it’s mandatory! Many state departments of education have already developed curriculums for these training issues. Look into using what is available to save yourself time developing your own program. Why reinvent the wheel? “Still can’t find the time,” you say. Then why not look to an outside source like a consultant or professional trainer or chef? You can’t keep putting training on the back burner it is a requirement now. “My program is small and can’t afford the cost of a consultant or trainer,” is the most often used excuse for failing to develop one’s staff.

A properly trained and informed staff saves food operations a great deal of money and increases revenues normally lost due to lack of knowledge. Most training fees are absorbed by improved cost efficiencies and service delivery due to having a more informed and professional staff. You have to spend money on occasion to make money. Pick the areas that have hurt revenues or caused waste in the past and make them go away by improving the skills and knowledge of your staff. If your district is small, co-op with other districts in your area and host a group training session. Split the cost among the districts involved. Many times getting a professional from the outside lends credibility to the presentation. It isn’t that you don’t tell the staff the same things as the trainer, but it’s the way it’s presented and they feel important that they are getting special training. This tends to cause them to pay closer attention. It’s kind of like being a parent, your kids don’t think you know anything and an outsider knows more than you. I used to get my neighbor to tell my daughter things that I wanted her to know. She would then come home and say, “Hey Mr. Jones told me this, isn’t that a great idea?” I was just happy she got the message and accepted it. It didn’t matter to me who told her.

However you plan to train your staff doesn’t matter. What matters is that you take the time to train them. A well informed staff that understands what they are doing will save and make additional money for your food program. If they feel important and are treated as professionals, they will act professionally. Don’t let upgrading the knowledge of your staff get swept under the rug again this year. Take time to plan and present well thought out enrichment programs that will enable them do their jobs and are pertinent to what they do. I assure you the results will yield a smoother and more profitable year.

Milt Miller is the Principal and Chief Innovator at Milton Miller Consulting. Throughout his 32 years in the food service industry he has managed, operated and assisted food service programs to become successful. For more information on this and other topics, contact Milt at; www.miltonmillerconsultant.com.

10 Reasons Many School Food Programs are Operating in the Red

Written by Milt Miller – School Nutrition Programs nationwide are struggling to stay in the black. Many are not succeeding, showing deficits in excess of $100K or more. The amounts of “Red Ink” spilling from school food programs since 2010 is astounding. To what can this be attributed? The new guidelines? High amounts of plate waste? Significant decreases in participation? Large amounts of unpaid lunch accounts? Increased cost of compliance? There are as many reasons, excuses, and theories as there are stars in the heavens, but it all boils down to ten main reasons why school food programs are bleeding.

In my experiences working with school nutrition programs, that are struggling to become self-sustaining, I find a combination of the following ten reasons why they are in the red.

  1. Outdated Labor Models, resulting in unmanageable salary and benefit costs.
  2. Outdated Menu Offerings, that no longer meet student customer expectations.
  3. Lack of Sound Purchasing and Procurement Procedures, resulting in excessive plate costs.
  4. Ineffective Marketing, resulting in students and parents not knowing what is being offered and what is happening in the café.
  5. Noncompliant or Nonexistent Charge Policies, resulting in high amounts of unpaid lunch accounts.
  6. Underutilization of Available Technology, resulting in poor tracking and reporting procedures, that hamper the making of informed decisions.
  7. Underdeveloped Food Handling, Customer Service, and Meal Recognition Skills, resulting in decreased participation and revenues.
  8. Ineffective Free and Reduced Meals Application Procedures, also resulting in increased unpaid lunch accounts and loss of federal and state funding.
  9. Adopting or Dropping out of a Federally Funded Program without Sufficient Research, resulting in the loss of unrecoverable revenue sources.
  10. (And this is the most significant reason) Inability to Admit there Is a Problem, resulting in continued deficits year after year.

Most of these issues go unnoticed because administrators have become desensitized. Being in their operations day in and day out they just don’t see the eminent danger to their programs, until it’s too late. Once they start to see the deficits pile up many times they are in denial and don’t want to admit they have a problem. Many times it takes a set of fresh eyes to see what is really happening. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are our revenues steadily decreasing?
  • Is there a significant amount of unpaid lunch accounts? 
  • Are food costs above 38% of sales?
  • Are Labor Costs above 52%? 

If you have answered “Yes” to any of these questions, you have a potential unimagined problem. The next three questions can mean the difference in bleeding red or getting back on track.

  1. What is my next step? 
  2. Can I handle this myself? 
  3. Where can I get help? 

Milt Miller is the Principal and Chief Innovator at Milton Miller Consulting. Throughout his 32 years in the food service industry he has managed, operated and assisted food service programs to become successful. For more information on this and other topics, contact Milt at; www.miltonmillerconsultant.com

Giving Free Meals to Hungry Students Can Get You Fired

Colorado and Idaho school districts have fired food service workers in the past year for providing a free meal to a hungry student. This is the case of Della Curry, the school lunch room manager who got fired by the Cherry Creek School District for giving free meals to students who couldn’t pay. Dalene Bowden, a cafeteria worker at Irving Middle School in Pocatello, Idaho, also stepped in for a 12-year-old student who didn’t qualify for a free meal and had no money to pay. A week later, Bowden was terminated from her position.

According to statistics, over 21 million children from low-income families qualify for free or reduced-priced lunch through the National School Lunch Program if their family’s income is 185 percent of the federal poverty line. Sadly, this means a matter of a few dollars can be the difference between getting lunch or not. In some public schools, students who don’t qualify for the low-cost or free lunches program are given a credit that ranges from $5 to $20 when they come to school without money for their meal. Other schools such as the Cherry Creek School District, provide hot meals to students the first three times they forget their lunch, and a small cheese sandwich and milk the fourth time.

As Curry herself noted, the so-called meal provides little nutrition to hungry students, and is not enough to satisfy growing kids and teens. Even worse, getting the cheese sandwich treatment is humiliating once the kids are old enough to understand its real meaning. Yet, many kids in schools across the nation are refused even these meals. “Cafeteria workers are told to throw out the child’s hot tray, leaving the student embarrassed and with nothing to eat,” states Bowden.

In a nationwide survey by No Hungry Child, a staggering 75% of educators noticed that their students came to school hungry, which greatly impacts their academic performance. Many teachers have paid for lunches for hungry children out of their own pocket.

But schools are within their legal rights to deny the students and hold their parents accountable, according to National Education Association. In one case, Willingboro Township Public Schools in New Jersey sent a notice to families threatening to dump students’ lunches in the trash if they were delinquent in payments. According to school food advocate Dana Woldow, this is one of the strictest policies in the nation, however, the consequences should be for the parent or guardian, and not for the kids.

Getting a Handle on Food Waste

From cafeterias to homes, there are many ways that we waste food in the United States. According to NPR, Americans throw out about a third of the food available to us, and restaurants throw away as much as ten percent of the what they buy. Wasting food is a problem for cafeterias on many levels. First and foremost, it represents wasted money, and few cafeterias can afford to throw away any of their budget.

On a broader scale, this waste represents environmental damage. Wasted food ends up in landfills, and as it rots, it generates harmful greenhouse gasses which contribute to climate change.

Because of the ongoing damage, the Environmental Protection Agency has issued a challenge for the United States to reduce its wasted food by 50 % by 2030.

At this point, the challenge is voluntary, but many restaurants have already begun to work towards reducing their waste in order to promote their restaurant as green and increase profits. For school cafeterias, showing that the kitchen is doing everything possible to reduce waste, manage budgets, and go green can help show that the cafeteria is giving kids healthy opportunities to eat and learn.

Rightsize your recipes

When you use food inventory software in your cafeteria, you can look at how much of a particular dish you’ve sold in the past, and plan the right amount to cook this time so that you don’t have waste to throw out.

Manage your inventory

Every kitchen has experienced the frustration of finding an ingredient pushed to the back of the fridge which has now gone bad. By digitally managing your inventory, you can keep track of what needs to be used up when, and plan ahead.

Rely on data, not opinions

There’s plenty of emotion and instinct involved in cooking, but a successful cafeteria balances this with data driven decisions. If you want to show that kids enjoy a particular recipe, reaching for data about how many servings were sold is more useful than word of mouth from servers.

If your cafeteria’s goal is to reduce waste, reuse ingredients when possible, and rightsize its portions to maximize profits and increase satisfaction, software to give you a clear idea of your kitchen’s inventory is the first, important step towards achieving that goal. For now, the EPA goal is non-mandatory, but given increasing pressure from various groups, that may not be the case in the long term. Act today to choose the best software for your kitchen!