Dining Environment

What do Job Corps students notice when they walk into the dining room? Is it an inviting environment? Does the food look appetizing?

Students notice the environment, décor, customer service and appearance of food as much as anyone else who enters an eating establishment. Regardless of how nutritious and tasty Job Corps breakfasts, lunches and dinners may be, students will most likely come away with a negative opinion if the dining room appears institutional and no thought is put into plating or garnishing meals.

In this section, you can learn about:

 

 


Décor

Interior of a Job Corps cafeteria

Simple changes can improve the Job Corps dining room's appearance and help direct students to healthy choices and can make tremendous differences. An attractive dining room helps students feel that they are at a nice restaurant. It may even help them to behave accordingly. Inexpensive items can be made or purchased to help improve student's dining experiences.

Tricks of the Trade

  • Choose your color scheme wisely. Restaurants often use colors to entice customers. Marketing firms recommend using red paint or decorations for restaurants. Other appealing colors include yellows, browns, rust colors and purples. Blue is thought to be the least appetizing color, perhaps because few foods are naturally blue. There are no set rules for colors to use or not use. Be creative and keep the dining color scheme attractive. Repainting the cafeteria could be a project for a trade on center.
  • Stay away from the long cafeteria-style tables as much as possible. It is difficult for students to maintain a conversational volume. Varying sizes of round or square tables ensures that the dining room does not have an institutional appearance. Not every center will be able to purchase new tables. Consider redesigning the layout of tables or slowly purchase tables as funds become available.
  • Decorate! A few plants (real or artificial) or other decorations that are inexpensive can improve a room's appearance without any drastic or expensive changes.
  • Create ambiance. While a Job Corps dining room does not need to look like a four-star restaurant, restaurant tricks can be employed to improve the dining experience. Replace florescent lights with track lighting on a dimmer. Traditional light switches can be switched to dimmers for a very small cost. Soften the lights during an evening meal. If the capabilities exist, play quiet music during meals.

Food Display and Placement

We eat with our eyes first. If food is not attractive and thought is not put into presentation, it will not taste good. To help students make healthy choices, meals must appear appetizing and menu items, desserts and side dishes must be strategically placed.

Display

Plates of fruits and vegetables

Lunchtime Menu Display
at Delaware Valley JCC

The way food looks and the way in which it is served plays a large role in consumer satisfaction. Job Corps food service should try to mimic restaurant food service. Food should be attractively plated and garnished. Some tips for food display:

  • Train food service staff to plate food attractively. Food that is thrown on a plate without any regard for presentation is not going to look appetizing regardless of how it is prepared. (This will also help educate staff on proper portion sizes.)
  • Do not be afraid of garnishes. Broiled fish can be garnished with a lemon and some herbs. A whole basil leaf can be put on top of a serving of lasagna or ravioli. Let the creativity flow.
  • Prior to each meal, or at least one meal each day, place displays of menu items on a cart for students to preview while waiting in line. While garnishes should be simple on students' actual plates, garnishes on the display cart can be restaurant quality. Include items from the salad and/or fresh fruit bar as entrées or accompaniments.
  • Make sure vegetables are identifiable. Cooking vegetables beyond recognition not only depletes nutrients, it makes the item less appetizing.
  • Use pictures of menu items to decorate. While not each menu item is served everyday, chance are there are signature items in every food service establishment. Take a close-up photograph of these items, have them blown up to poster size and decorate.

Food Placement

At most Job Corps centers, students spend a considerable length of time waiting in line for lunch. They then enter the serving area with typically one or two serving lines, a salad bar, a beverage station and an array of desserts.

Picture the food service area at your center. The organization of serving lines and self-serve areas can influence students' meal choices. Are desserts placed first in line? Is the salad bar in the middle of the room to attract students? If a student is still hungry after they finish their meal, what is closest to them? Fresh fruit? Cookies? A line for second helpings?

Do's
  • If using more than one serving line, include healthy side dishes on each line. For example, serving line A has baked chicken, steamed broccoli, sweet potatoes and vegetarian burgers. Line B has fresh made deli sandwiches and French fries. If a student wants a deli sandwich and does not want to stand in two lines, they must choose fries as their side item. If serving Line B is not equipped for multiple side dishes, sides can be placed in individual serving plates or bowls and kept warm for students who would like sweet potatoes or steamed broccoli in lieu of fries.
  • Make it easy for students to choose a salad as their entrée. The salad bar should be accessible and in their line of sight. Plates should be large enough for students to have a salad as a meal. If an item such as grilled chicken breast is served on the hot food line, make it easy for students to have a grilled chicken salad by advertising the option on the hot food line or slicing the chicken and offering it at the salad bar.
  • Offer attractive beverage options other than soda/pop. Ensure low-fat/non-fat milk, water, and juice is not only available, but looks appealing. Water coolers, bottled water or ice machines with a waterspout make it easier for students to choose water than a soda machine with a water option. Ensure water is somehow filtered and free of any metallic tastes. Many students may prefer cartons, cups or bottles of milk or juice instead of a dispenser. This is sometimes less expensive than a dispenser and controls portion sizes.
  • In vending machines and tiered self-service displays, place healthier items at eye level.
Don'ts
  • Do not place desserts first in line. Students will enter the cafeteria hungry and are likely to grab a dessert if it is the first thing they see. If desserts are served, place them at the end of the line and surround them with healthy choices, such as fresh fruit or low-fat granola bars.
  • Do not encourage second servings of entrées. Place appetizing fruit salads, vegetables and dip, or other low calorie foods in the way. Organize the food service area so that students will encounter healthy snacks or foods before they reach the hot food serving lines. If students are permitted to come back for second servings, ensure that the portion sizes are smaller and/or offer limited healthy options.
  • Observe if your food service area layout/arrangement directs students to healthy choices. If not, try other layouts and see which one attracts students more toward the salad bars and fresh fruits.

Use of Cafeteria Trays

"To tray or not to tray..." that is the question. Recently, the cafeteria tray has been the topic of discussion. Known best for being impromptu sleds, these pieces of plastic have gained attention in the news. Colleges and other institutions have removed the trays in order to save money. Is this in the best interest of the students? How will you know which decision is best for you?

Pros to removing trays from your cafeteria:

  • Removing trays allows you to conserve water. It is estimated that for every 1,000 meals served, trayless cafeterias save 200 gallons of water a day.
  • Not only is going trayless good for the environment, it is also great for your pocket. Eliminating trays reduces water, energy costs, and detergent usage – saving you money.
  • Tray removal helps control portions, which leads to reduced food waste. A study conducted by ARAMARK at 25 colleges and universities demonstrated the removal of trays reduces food waste approximately 25-30% per person.
  • Limiting portions can also help combat the dreaded "Freshman 15". Portion control allows students to manage a healthy weight.

Cons to removing trays from your cafeteria:

  • Removing trays can be inconvenient for your students. They may have to make multiple trips in order to gather their desired food and drinks. This will create more traffic in the lines.
  • Students will be stuck in a perpetual balancing act. Carrying multiple plates and bowls, along with silverware and glasses, has the potential to cause a large mess if dropped.
  • No longer will trays catch spillage from plates, resulting in dirtier tables.
  • Without trays to hold multiple plates and bowls, students are less likely to take side dishes. They may be inclined to choose a dessert item over a healthier alternative. A study at Cornell saw a 26% decrease in salad but only an 8% decrease in ice cream.

Minimizing Crowding

No one wants to spend his or her entire lunch hour waiting in line for food. At many centers, students have to stand in line for 20 minutes or more for lunch. By the time they get their food, they are often rushed to eat. Centers should try to minimize the time students wait in line as well as make that time more enjoyable. Strategies for minimizing crowding range from simple changes to reorganizing scheduled meal times and food service logistics.

Changes may include:

Making the Most of the Wait

  • If students line up in a hallway or outside area, supply students with nutrition and food education that changes regularly to maintain interest. For example, large menu boards or chalkboards can describe the daily entrées. Also, nutrition information can be available for students to view while they wait, or set up appetizing menu item displays.
  • Have a food service staff person hand out samples of menu items while students wait in line. If your center has limited food service staff, another staff member or student may be willing to hand out samples. If volunteers are not available, a tray of samples can be placed near the serving line. Students will know what foods are being served when they reach the servers and they will have an opportunity to try the meals. This also encourages students to try new and different foods and reduce plate waste.

Speeding up Service

  • Ensure menus are available in dormitories and other places around campus so students know what is being served and can decide what to have prior to coming to the cafeteria.
  • Have pre-portioned items, such as grilled chicken sandwiches, pizza (with whole-wheat crust), or vegetarian burgers available for students to "grab-and-go." These items are easy to place on a counter underneath a heat lamp. Many public schools employ this strategy in their serving lines. Note: Be sure to monitor serving sizes. Students should not be permitted unlimited servings of these foods.
  • Have a separate line for students who wish to visit only the salad bar. If a student is not interested in waiting for hot foods, they can be permitted to go to a separate self-serve soup, salad and fresh fruit bar.
  • Scoop items into individual servings prior to the lunch period. For example, vegetables and side items can be placed in small bowls and kept warm.

Changing the logistics

  • Experiment with your serving lines. Kitchen, serving area and dining room layouts vary between centers; however, adjustments can be made for faster service. For example, if two separate serving lines are utilized, place popular items on both serving lines.
  • Offer the same side items on both serving lines. The serving area will become more crowded if students have to wait in two service lines for their desired items. For example, if a student has to wait in Line A for a deli sandwich and Line B for a side of vegetables, they have taken as much time as two students waiting in Line A only!
  • Position self-service items, such as beverages and the salad bar, out of the line of traffic. Place beverages closer to the dining area, out of the way of the food, where they are accessible to students.
  • Add an extra lunch period. Crowding at breakfast and dinner is not much of a problem at most centers. During lunch, all students and many staff rush to the dining room. If your center has grown and you still have only two lunch shifts, it may be time to consider adding a third. Lengthen existing lunch shifts by 5-10 minutes to ensure all students have enough time to eat.

Staff Professionalism

Food service staff should be courteous to students, knowledgeable about the day's menu, and have a professional appearance.

Customer Service

  • Train food service personnel to be respectful to students. In turn, students will be more likely to treat them with respect as well.
  • Food service personnel should greet students and staff when they enter the cafeteria or when they approach the serving line. The greeting should be warm, friendly and professional.
  • Complete regular customer service trainings with staff. Possible training topics include dealing with difficult customers, communicating the need for proper portion sizes to students, and communicating/resolving issues with coworkers.

Knowing the Menu

  • A meeting at the beginning of a shift can be helpful in ensuring that all kitchen/food service staff know about the day's menu.
  • Ensure that staff members know proper portion sizes of all menu items. A plate of each menu item should be prepared prior to the start of the meal period to show how the portion should look when plated.
  • Communicate which menu items contain ingredients that students with special diets may want to avoid (e.g. food allergies/intolerances to nuts, soy, gluten, or milk, or vegetarian/vegan).
  • Staff should receive basic nutrition training. They should be able to answer questions about the nutritive value of menu items and make recommendations to students.
  • If a new menu item is introduced on a given day, the staff should be knowledgeable about that menu item and able to "sell" it to students.

Professional Appearance

  • Clothing should be clean, free of food stains and wrinkle-free at the beginning of each shift. Although there is no set Job Corps food service uniform, centers can require certain attire or a color scheme for food service personnel. If your center (or food service department) has a logo, a uniform shirt can complement the theme.
  • Ensure all staff members abide by health code regulations, including hair nets/baseball caps, hand washing, and other sanitation procedures.

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