Washington State University Managed Services class visit to local Pullman Hospital. Reynolds expected 40 students for the tour because it was scheduled in the middle of the day. However 60 of the 64 students in the class attended.
CLASS IN THE BOX: Louise Hoffman, regional manager at Jeppesen-Boeing, a Eurest Dining account in Denver, CO, discusses career opportunities in the B&I segment during a video taping for one of the tools offered as part of the Onsite Education Initiative.
Students at Widener University practice plating and presentation.
How long has the noncommercial foodservice industry been struggling with the challenge of attracting talented, ambitious young people to manage their operations and lead their professional associations into the future? Ten years? Twenty? Thirty?
Evidence that the challenge has not been met is everywhere. National and regional contractors will tell you they show up at college job fairs and no amount of singing and dancing gets soon-to-be graduates to talk to them.
And while universities with dietetic programs typically offer at least a brief introduction to food management type careers, the curricula at all but a handful of hotel/restaurant/ hospitality schools often offer little in terms of class time spent discussing the rewarding career opportunities that exist in school, university, hospital, nursing home or employee dining programs.
Typical: when one hospitality professor contacted for this article mentioned B&I to a class of hospitality school seniors at Cornell University a few years back, they responded, "What's B&I?" That's like a graduating computer sciences major saying, "What's a corporate data center?"
No one questions the need for managers and directors in onsite operations. One estimate suggests that, at any given time, management companies alone are short 5,000 entry and mid-level onsite managers.
The irony is that directors and managers already working in noncommercial segments almost universally say they are delighted with their career choice. Complete with good benefits, job security, advancement opportunities and family-compatible work schedules, the work is creative, constantly changing and broad in scope. They consider their segment the best-kept secret in the foodservice industry.
Getting the Secret Out
There are many explanations offered for why job-seeking college students tend to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to opportunities in noncommercial segments. But two reasons stand out.
First, noncommercial doesn't have the brand-name glitz of hotel and hospitality jobs. Most operations in the sector are not merely low profile—they're practically invisible.
"Noncommercial foodservice is not mainstream academic content in hospitality education programs—restaurants and hotels are the mainstream," says Charles Partlow, PhD, interim chair and director of graduate studies in the School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management at the University of South Carolina, in Columbia.
"It's a perception issue. Noncommercial foodservice is associated with hair nets, lab coats and dull institutional settings. Students don't want to work in hospitals— there are sick people in hospitals. They don't want to work in a school system—they remember-their own school meals of macaroniand cheese, fruit cups and all those cafeteria-style tables." Dennis Reynolds, the Ivar Haglund Distinguished Professor of Hospitality Business Management, in the College of Business and Economics at Washington State University, in Pullman, puts it another way, "The downside is your business card."
"Think about it. A senior goes home to Mom and Dad and says, 'I turned down a job at Hyatt and I've decided to skip the opportunities at The Four Seasons. Instead, I'm seriously thinking about going to work for Aramark or Compass.' These are companies that most parents and peers don't recognize."
Beyond simple employer cachet, however, is a second, standout reason noncommercial isn't attracting interest from new hospitality graduates: the schools frequently gloss over onsite in the curricula they offer.
"As faculty, most of us talk about what we know," says David Tucker, associate professor-in the School of Hospitality Management at Widener University, in Chester, PA. "I, for example, don't have hotel experience. When I talk to students, I gloss over hotels but I dig deep for onsite."
An HRI graduate of Drexel University, Philadelphia, Tucker is an exception: he worked in food management with The Macke Company and Stouffers before answering an ad for a teaching position in the hospitality program at Ferris State University, Big Rapids, MI, and then discovered his teaching vocation.
"Students at Widener start hearing about onsite careers from the moment they walk in the door," he says. "Everything about me changes when I talk about the field. I am more enthusiastic, more animated, because I've seen these operations and I believe in the career opportunities they offer.
"I tell them, 'You can work at the football stadium instead of wishing you were at the football game. Running a restaurant can be boring—you've got the same menu every day. In B&I, you have a different menu every day, but the same customers. To keep them happy, you have to be creative, you have to keep changing.'"
There's no doubt that "the biggest problem onsite faces is a lack of qualified managerial talent," says Reynolds. "And the biggest part of the solution lies in hospitality schools."
The Solution is Simple— Implementation is Not
The solution seems simple enough—put additional emphasis on noncommercial in the curricula of the nation's hospitality schools and hire experienced noncommercial managers to teach. Problem solved.
If only it were that easy. Washington State's Reynolds notes that "It's hard to find people who have experience in and exposure to the noncommercial segments and who have the background" to teach at the college level.
There are other impediments as well.Consider the experience two major contractors had with an internship program they sponsored in the early '90s. Tucker was the program coordinator.
"The companies made a real commitment to the program. The idea was to educate the educators to inform students about careers in onsite foodservice," he recalls.
Each company set up three internships and funded each with a stipend. Offered to educators within hospitality schools nationwide, the program attracted 50 to 60 applicants. The contractors committed to one week of orientation split between time spent in the corporate headquarters and a grand tour of operations as diverse as the Baltimore Aquarium and Camden Yards.
Following the orientation week, the educators committed to three weeks exploring onsite foodservice in their geographic area. They were given a list of local onsite operations and encouraged to meet the managers and visit their operations.
In 1997, Tucker surveyed those educators who had participated in the program five years earlier. He asked whether any of them were offering a course in onsite foodservice management, how many were enrolled and, if not, why not. The sad reality?
"There were no new courses," says Tucker. "The educators typically responded, 'We don't teach a course in onsite because there's no interest on the part of the students.'"
Such comments frustrate Tucker. "I say, we have to create interest. Students want to be hotel and restaurant managers because that's all they know about. Only we can change that."
Scoring Some Successes
Despite the history of failed attempts to market onsite to colleges and universities, a small but bright success story is currently being written, and the authors are educators like Reynolds, Partlow and Tucker. Under the auspices of the Society for Foodservice Management (SFM) and the determined direction of Christine Dozal, principal of Denver, Colorado-based Dozal & Company, the visibility, profile and prestige of onsite segments is being raised on college campuses.
Dozal, whose own career included a significant stint with Marriott Management Services, originally came up with the idea for her "Onsite Education Initiative" as an outgrowth of training and education programs she was already developing for clients of her foodservice marketing consultancy.
Her work with the program over the past four years has been as an unpaid volunteer. She originally had become interested in the SFM Student Chapter Program, which was funded by the association's annual silent auction. She found that it was stuck at three or four active student chapters, and didn't seem to be catching on beyond that.
Instead, she revisited the idea of promoting a noncommercial curriculum in hospitality schools and proposed taking it one step further: offering a $5,000 cash sponsorship of "seed money" to help a school with the costs of establishing a course and/or paying someone to teach it.
To raise the needed funds, Dozal, Mary Hofer (a principal in Cleveland-based Integrated Marketing Technologies) and other interested volunteers expanded SFM's silent auction, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Education Initiative. Dozal also began calling hospitality departments in colleges, looking to find out why there was a lack of interest in establishing student chapters.
"It was pretty obvious," she says. "None of them were teaching a noncommercial class, so there was no interest by students in a noncommercial student chapter. I began to ask what it would take to get them to offer such a class. After all, noncommercial represents over a third of the foodservice market.
"I asked, 'What if we find a teacher? What if we give you a syllabus and connect you with resources to provide onsite tours?' The $5,000 was the icing on the cake, but schools typically needed all the components to make the package work as a whole."
"A class in a box"
When Dozal went looking for a textbook, she found Reynolds, who served as general manager and vice president of North American operations for a leading foodservice management company's retirement community division before returning to Cornell to obtain his PhD.
Reynolds had written a textbook for a Contract Management course and offered to contribute the class curriculum and syllabus he had developed to accompany the book for the SFM program.
Dozal refers to the overall package (along with videos and other tools she's developed for the Initiative) as a "class in a box" and says it is particularly valuable when used by instructors who may be experienced as noncommercial operators but who are not formally trained as educators.
"See it, feel it, taste it"
Slowly but steadily, one course at a time, one college at a time, the program appears to be working.
Launched with four schools, 12 colleges and universities are now offering noncommercial foodservice as an elective course. By the end of this year, 800 students will have taken the courses.
That's a meaningful start, especially given the paucity of such classes in existing hospitality programs. "We haven't aggressively promoted the program because we don't have money to fund classes beyond what we already are spending," says Dozal. "We don't want to have to turn down schools that express an interest but can't be funded. It also takes time to find the right people to teach the courses."
Dozal has been careful to leverage the modest resources she's had available. Tucker and Reynolds already had classes along these lines and she looked for others. At the University of South Carolina, Partlow had developed a course on Contract Foodservice Management about six years ago, initially offering it to about 20 students a year. Today, Partlow is the school's director of graduate studies. Meanwhile, enrollment in the course has grown to 80 and it has been split into two classes. They are taught by Kevin Ayres and Gil Kaplan, both with real life experience in the field.
At Michigan State, Mike Rice, the university's director of foodservice, began teaching a class as part of the program. And this spring, a Florida International University class was launched, taught by Rick Jacobs, a Compass regional vice-president who recently earned his master's degree.
Each course is structured somewhat differently, depending on local resources. For the one at USC, Compass Group sends guest speakers from its operations or nearby Charlotte headquarters and facility visits are arranged at the 18,000-seat arena managed by Volume Services of America next door. There's also a self-op hospital and two contracted hospitals on the tour list.
At Widener, located in Aramark's back yard, the contractor has endowed an academic chair. (Tucker's official title is Aramark Professor of Managed Services.)
"I really believe students have to touch it, feel it, see it, taste it," says Reynolds. His class has toured Pullman Hospital, where the foodservice director explained how room service-style menus are employed. They also visited Gonzaga University, in Spokane, where students toured the foodservice facilities of its 6,000-seat basketball arena; visited the upscale foodservice offerings of Empire Health, a retirement facility; and visited ITRON headquarters, where foodservice is offered free of charge to the 350 engineers on staff.
The significance such courses have for those already in the industry is clearly demonstrated by the willingness of high-level onsite directors and executives to contribute their time to the program.
Is It Working?
"Onsite foodservice is a great career choice," says Partlow, "but it's not an easy sell. We have over 500 students (in the School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management) and recruiters from hotels, restaurants and clubs bombard them all the time. Seventy percent of our students want to stay in the Carolinas. So if it comes down to a choice between a private club in Greenville versus a B&I account in Kansas City, which do you think they will choose?"
At Washington State, where Reynolds' first Managed Services class in the fall of 2004 enrolled 48, there are 64 students signed up for the course this Fall.
"We've stopped because that's the limit the classroom and the bus can hold," says Reynolds. "Right now there are 14 students on the wait list."
He notes that, after having taught a similar course for a few years at Cornell, "I started hearing from recruiters that they were seeing a new breed of student who is more familiar with the industry."
Reynolds also says the fact that more Washington State graduates are going into noncommercial foodservice jobs is raising the mean salary of the school's graduates. Hotel companies still require graduates to complete lengthy, conventional management training programs during which the pay is typically in the $20,000-range. In contrast, foodservice management companies often offer starting salaries in the low to mid-$30,000-range even during an accelerated training period.
"I offer the course for two reasons," says Tucker. "The first is to give students an alternative to cruise ships, restaurants and country clubs right after graduation. The second is to open the door to options to students who tell me three or four years after graduation, 'Dave, now I'm ready.' At that point, it's all about the schedule and quality of life. If you operate a B&I cafè at a Philadelphia Law firm, you're going to work five hard days a week. But on Friday afternoon, you're going home for the weekend."
Dozal's original model has failed in one respect.
"The original idea," she says, "was to fund the courses for two years, convince the colleges of how valuable they were, and then let them take over the cost themselves. That hasn't happened.
"Right now, we're continuing to fund every course we've started. Part of the problem has been that state funding at the college level has been declining, so money for new, elective classes is not available unless there is additional outside support."
In order to expand the program to other schools, Dozal has been recruiting corporate sponsors who agree to fund and "adopt" individual college programs. She notes that they have to be carefully screened. "It's important they realize that this is not a marketing program for their companies, but an education program for the students."
Dozal has also been working to enhance the "toolkit" offered to onsite educators. She's produced videotaped virtual tours of onsite accounts, and another video with brief interviews with the presidents of various noncommercial foodservice professional associations in which they discuss opportunities within their own segments of the industry.
In the longer term? "We'd like to see a noncommercial foodservice course made mandatory at all HRI schools. That will mean working with the deans of these colleges and universities so they get invested and see its value," says Dozal.
"It's often said that foodservice is a ' people industry,'" she adds. "The only way onsite will have the human resources it needs in the future will be if more schools begin to recognize the significant career possibilities that it offers their graduates."
Other Champions of the Cause
"Distance learning is an option because it has a different funding stream but on-campus students usually don't want to do distance classes. "There are many opportunities in school foodservice but I don't think dietitians are looking at those programs. But there is something to be said for working in an environment that values education. Restaurants don't care if you have a master's degree. Schools do. In big cities, the school foodservice director is on a par with the business official, the superintendent and the person in charge of curriculum."
—Jeannie Sneed, PhD. R.D., professor, Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management School, Iowa State University, Ames, IA.
"Hotel and restaurant management students often have a grandiose-idea of what their careers will be like in the commercial sector of the foodservice industry. They don't always understand the sacrifices it takes to advance or how pointed the career pyramid becomes at the top. We need to do a better job educating students about careers in noncommercial foodservice. We should be selling the advantages of the noncommercial environment—for example, the great atmosphere on a college campus, the stability of the workforce, the freedom to dream and try new and exciting things, and the opportunity to be creative. The noncommercial sector can also provide work schedules that will support a much higher quality of life than is often possible with commercial positions.
"Arranging internships would be a good place to start. Our students are required to do a paid internship before graduation. Too few are in the noncommercial area. Most go to large hotel chains where internships are very organized and training programs well developed. Students often leave these internships with job offers in hand. Independent operators and most commercial businesses can't or don't compete very well with what the large chains offer."
—Mary Molt, PhD, R.D., associate director of housing and dining services and assistant professor in the Hotel, Restaurant, Institution Management and Dietetics School , Kansas State University, Manhattan.
"We've got to fight the perception of school foodservice first, before we can promote it as a career. I don't think they have any idea how much they would make, could make as they advance. Starting salaries in school foodservice management are $30,000 to $40,000, $50,000 to $60,000 if you have a degree and are hired as a supervisor. In California, directors in large districts may make $100,000 or more. There are other benefits. The hours are good - no weekends - and if you have a heart for working with kids, this can be a very rewarding career."
—Sandy Queen, coordinator, California Professional Nutrition Education and Training Center (Cal-Pro-NET), at San Jose State University.
"Most dietetics students, as students, don't see the creativity in these jobs and are not interested in management. They are interestedin clinical, wellness and spa programs. Their perception of hospital management is a position working in a kitchen or getting stuck managing a tray line. But after a couple of years, when they want to advance, as many as 20 percent end up in management positions.
"You've got to market noncommercial to make it look attractive. Noncommercialdoes very little marketing and recruitment, so students make their own assumptions about what those jobs are like. Holiday Inn tells me what they want me to think of them. Noncommercial should be doing the same thing.
"The dietetics curriculum has moved far beyond foodservice management. It has to expose students to a wide range of management competencies in areas such as risk management, facilities, finance and marketing. "
—Karen Greathouse, PhD, R.D., professor, Dietetics, Fashion Merchandising and Hospitality, Western Illinois University, Macomb, and former director of the American Dietetic Association's Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education (CADE).
Grow Your Own With An ADA Internship
Since the 1980s, the program has been self-sufficient financially with tuition offsetting the costs, says Louise Merriman, corporate manager of clinical nutrition. During 1500 hours spread over 50 weeks, dietetic interns move through 16 rotations, including a three-week stint in foodservice, studying purchasing, production and tray lines. The hospital's long history with the program had enabled it to integrate the intern training and mentoring seamlessly into the operations.
Andrew Catalano, corporate director of food and nutrition, says "We most definitely look at our interns as potential staff members and a pool for hiring. Also, the management staff has included our interns as part of the Food and Nutrition team, which has created a positive learning environmentfor all parties. According to Elaine Rosenthal, dietetic internship program administrator, "We try to keep the percentages at 50/50, filling 50 percent of our openings from our intern pool and 50 percent from the outside. That benefits us operationally because we have new ideas coming in with the outside hires."
Rosenthal says part of the program curriculum is a series of guest speakers – many times their own graduates -- recruited from outside acute care to expose the interns to jobs beyond their training environment. Dietetic interns also are encouraged to complete an elective in nonhealthcare segments of the industry. Interns have worked in schools, nursing homes, food companies, consulting firms, and colleges and universities.
The hospital also has introduced a six-month fellowship program built around an "experience that is of value to us operationally," says Merriman. The most recent fellowship was awarded to Sarah Baker, a July graduate of Johnson & Wales, who is working with the executive chef, Michael Wickett, to enhance the taste of the department's therapeutic food recipes.
Reaching into High Schools to Recruit the Future
"Historically, the company has employed full-time foodservice career professionals," says Brian Moog, manager of commissary production. "But this operation didn't require that skill level. We needed to restructure ourselves to incorporate part-time students or interns to balance out our overall labor costs."
Enter Linda Valiga, a culinary arts teacher in Waukesha South High School's Family and Consumer Science department, in the neighboring town of Waukesha, WI.
"We had traditionally placed students from our program in local fast food and family restaurants for on-the-job experience but I was looking for something a step above," says Valiga. Familiar with Quad Graphics' employee dining program, she approached Moog in the summer of 2004. Her timing couldn't have been better.
"She described her class, her students and the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation's (NRAEF) ProStart program," recalls Moog. "I thought it was a perfect fit and told her to send her students over." Valiga carefully selected two of her star students—Crystal Coenen and Mike Hase—to assure a good first impression at Quad Graphics.
"They were fabulous kids in terms of their ambition, the knowledge base they already had, their attitude, the whole nine yards," says Moog. The two students worked six-hour shifts four or five days a week in a new facility where entrèe offerings are prepared in bulk for the company's 10,500 employees in six Wisconsin plants.
In addition, Coenen and Hase were members of a four-person team from Valiga's class that represented the school for the first time in the Wisconsin Restaurant Association's annual student culinary competition last spring. They took third place and came home with scholarships.
"Quad Graphics' made a big difference for those kids in the competition," says Valiga. "The experience gave them very professional culinary input on things like plate presentation and garnishing."
Valiga notes an additional benefit: publicity surrounding the competition and the scholarships her students won has increased the visibility and prestige of the culinary arts program at her school.
Editor's Note: ProStart ia a two-year career-building program for high school students that combines classroom instruction with on-the-job experience to develop students' business and culinary skills and knowledge. ProStart certificates have been awarded to 45,000 students in 1,190 schools across the country. To earn a certificate, students must meet certain academic standards, complete a checklist of competencies and participate in at least 400 hours of a mentored work experience. For more information, contact NRAEF at 312-715-6741.
NACUFS' Professional Institutes program is designed for members who wish to enhance their own skills and credentials in preparation for career advancement.
Beginning in 2001, a NACUFS project team chaired by Julaine Kiehn, director-of dining services at the University of Missouri-Columbia, reviewed and revamped the association's widely-respected institutes to reflect new and emerging competencies in college dining management. In this redesign, committee members reviewed education programs offered by academic institutions and other professional and noncommercial foodservice associations.
"We identified the key competencies foodservice management professionals need and arranged them by categories," says Kiehn."Then we decided which were most appropriate for NACUFS to address. Sanitation is a key competency, for example, but why would NACUFS address that when the National Restaurant Association's ServSafe program is already in place to do so?"
The result was a series of eight institutes for which NACUFS members can apply. The program's three "foundation" institutes are Leadership, Human Resources, and Foodservice Management. It also offers five " capstone" institutes in Planning, which debuted in its revised state this past June, Financial Management, which was first offered in June 2004, Customer Service, which debuts in December 2005, Facilities Management, which debuts next June, and Marketing, which debuts in December 2006.
Each has a corporate sponsor which hosts the four-to six-day sessions. The foundation institutes are offered every year; the others are scheduled once every two years. All have a reputation for being competitive ( enrollment is limited and there is a formal application and review process), comprehensive-and skill-based. In the Foodservice Management Institute, for example, attendees are divided into three work groups and assigned to a category where they have no experience—either retail, residential or catering. Then they are asked to create a virtual foodservice program from the ground up, complete with budget, menu, quality assurance, HACCP/ sanitation, and marketing. The final business plan is presented to the class at the conclusion of the institute.