A few days back, a friend of mine asked me what I do for a living. I explained that I was a National Sales Manager for Heartland School Solutions. We hadn’t seen each other in a few years, and as the father of twins beginning kindergarten this year, he was very interested to hear all about it. We chatted about our careers, and I began to think about the complexity of our K-12 food service industry.
With constantly changing regulations and rising costs, finding a nutrition solution to help tackle these challenges can be difficult. Now try to explain what goes into serving kids everyday to someone outside the industry.
For the sake of simplicity, I decided the best way to explain how we help schools was to walk him through the “simple” life cycle of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich! I know, maybe not the best choice for the serving line, but for this conversation it worked.
You would think just putting a PB&J in front of a student at the serving line would be simple, right? Well let’s take a look at what went into that.
First, the Food Service Director has to plan what food will be on the menu. Then they need to identify vendors and start the bid process, finding the best options for the lowest cost. After they select vendors to do business with, they need to put all of the products' nutritional information into a menu planning program one by one, and analyze them to ensure that they are meeting nutritional requirements set by the USDA.
Next, the FSD would have to figure out how many PB&J's they think they are going to need, which is called Production. Typically, this is a forecast based on how many they have served in the past. Based on this count, they need to create an order for the bread, peanut butter, and jelly. Let’s not forget about knives to spread, packages to put the sandwich in, and managing all of the employees that prepare and serve this item. Once the order is placed, now we need to figure out where it gets delivered. Should it go directly to the school, be sent to a warehouse, or to a central kitchen to get prepared and shipped? Keep in mind that the bread might come from one vendor, the peanut butter another, and maybe even another for the jelly!
Once we have the items needed to build each sandwich, labor hours and cost for all employees has to factor into the equation - because if schools aren’t selling product, the employees can't get paid. Now that we have the sandwiches created, we need to market them to the students and parents. How are they going to know what is on the menu if there is no calendar on the district website? Also, how is the money getting into the student accounts? Check or cash… well that slows lines down. Taking payments online is faster and nearly guarantees this money will be spent in the cafeteria. Students can pay for a meal, and in some cases the government will provide compensation to districts that feed students with low household income. So school districts send out applications or provide an online application option for parents and keep an accurate account of these in case they get audited.
Finally, the day has come when we can sell our beloved PB&J sandwiches. In order to meet regulations, we need to indicate how many we actually put on the table to be served using a production sheet. Do the managers have other options in case we run out of the PB&J? The bell rings and the students are in line. I need a Point of Sale program that identifies each student, so I know who has money, who needs to charge a meal, or who might have allergies.
Now that the the lunch period is over, I need to record how many sandwiches I actually served. Were there any leftovers? Can I sell them tomorrow? This is just one of many ongoing thoughts for any food service operation, and it is a lot to manage.
After telling that story, my friend told me that he was going to stick with his current job as a Neurological Surgeon (that's no joke). He said it is less complicated. We got a good laugh out of that!
Managing a food service operation is a difficult task. That is why I love my job here at Heartland. Our goal is to offer solutions that simplify the many responsibilities school food service departments have. My hat is off to all those that live their day in the life of Food Service!
About Patrick Clemens
Patrick has been in the K-12 foodservice industry for nearly 10 years. His background and knowledge began with Point of Sale implementations, support and training for districts of all sizes across the country. As a National Sales Manager, he currently works with new and existing customers to help streamline and grow their foodservice operations. Patrick has a Bachelor’s Degree in International Studies from SUNY Brockport.