By Shannon N. Goff 2015-11-19 12:25:55
Bigger isn’t always better! Learn how small-scale investments can provide huge results. When managing a school cafeteria, the top priorities all come down to incorporating new strategies for efficiency and productivity into your day-to-day operations. After all, federal regulation compliance, decreased time for students to be served and eat, increasing plate waste and tightening budgets concern school nutrition professionals at every level, from the frontline lunchroom employees to district directors and state agency personnel. In the controlled chaos of addressing so many issues that affect meals and students, school nutrition professionals often overlook what’s going wrong (and right!) in the work environment, including simple solutions that can be implemented right now to improve workday routines. Can you stop to take a breath and take a little time with your teams to identify areas where you can reduce stress and work smarter? Of course, identifying areas for improvement is one thing; coming up with the solutions can be harder. Let School Nutrition help by sharing some low-tech solutions that four schools/districts have found to help address a few common cafeteria conundrums. THINK OUTSIDE THE KITCHEN While it’s important to brainstorm new solutions within cafeteria walls, many districts overlook the types of technology that can be influential off-campus, as well. Oak Park and River Forest (Ill.) High School District 200 (OPRF), however, is not one of those districts. Director of Food Services Micheline Piekarski, SNS, gives the lowdown on how her operation uses GPS-focused apps with delivery trucks to satisfy product tracking and delivery needs. Functional Features To help alleviate concerns about the timely delivery of foods and supplies, reduce shortages and manage delays, the school nutrition team implemented use of Verizon’s Networkfleet app, which uses GPS technology to geo-locate delivery trucks. Initially, Piekarski and her team used the app simply to keep a real-time eye on the whereabouts of delivery vans. But the technology has been able to provide much more information than anticipated. It’s a “goldmine of data,” declares one OPRF team member, citing the interactive maps and reports that are available online, as well as location logs that retain easy-to-search information for up to a year. The app makes it possible for OPRF to search delivery records and access details that disclose whether the vehicle was moving, idling or turned off at specific times. It also features a diagnostic component that monitors speed and breaking patterns, and it can send an alert to change oil, rotate tires and schedule other maintenance, based on mileage. Because this data is available online and can be sent to individual phones and email accounts, the app can help to ensure a higher level of safety, as well as an increased accountability of all drivers. How does the OPRF school nutrition team apply this information? It lets them monitor processes that aren’t always easy to analyze. For example, using Networkfleet, Piekarski’s staff can input the address of each of its satellite sites and create specific landmarks along the route, receiving data when a van checks into each. Because the delivery routes are fixed (pending roadblocks or similar unavoidable traffic scenarios) a “geo-fence” can be created, indicating the perimeter boundaries of the route map. If any van goes outside the bounds of the geo-fence at any point, the app sends an instant message or email to alert the appropriate staff member. This is not to suggest that Piekarski has an inherent suspicion of her drivers, but the feature is especially useful when a substitute driver is behind the wheel. It eliminates worry about the driver getting lost or taking a wrong turn. The main office “can essentially be a [remote] back-seat driver,” Piekarski says. The OPRF school nutrition team has applied the data to make improvements to its delivery service. Route logistics have been tweaked, shuffling the order and the course for each van for a more efficient process. For example, one routine delivery route was changed to avoid morning traffic patterns, reducing the estimated travel time by 20 minutes. Piekarski is a big fan of the simple tech. “With all of this information at our fingertips, we find ourselves spending much less time worrying about the safety of our drivers and the status of the food deliveries!” Getting on the Road Implementation of the new tech strategy was simple. OPRF was already using some other Verizon services, so upon their discovery of the Networkfleet product, reps from the telecommunications giant wasted no time paying a personal call in order to demo the product and subsequently get it up and running within a few weeks. GPS devices were installed into district delivery vans, and training was made available to all involved staff. Make sure you dedicate a good amount of time prior to implementation to ensure you know and understand all the capabilities, so you can use them to their fullest extent, advises Piekarski. “Verizon offers help in the form of archived and live webinars, tutorials and in-person training,” she notes. PUTTING TIME ON YOUR SIDE With a mix of workers, both hourly and full time, running in and out of a school kitchen all day, working different shifts, it’s no surprise that school nutrition departments need innovative solutions to manage payroll, adjust schedules, address personnel issues and analyze meals-per-labor-hour data. Enter time-tracking technology that is a significant upgrade to the age-old punchcard clock or dinosaur-age paper methods. School Nutrition has discovered two school nutrition operations that are using 21st century approaches to manage this task. Ushering In a New Age Point-of-sale (POS) software has become so ubiquitous in school meal programs today it’s hardly considered a novel technology. But operators are advised to keep an eye out on the newer modules and features of many current POS software systems, as they just might offer solutions to problems you didn’t realize you had! In Indianapolis, the Child Nutrition department at Metropolitan School District (MSD) of Wayne Township uses a POS system that features a time clock module. With this method of tracking time, employees simply go to a POS register, enter their employee number and push “clock in” or “clock out,” as appropriate. Absences and holidays can be handled directly by managers. Let’s take a closer look at how this school nutrition team implemented this solution. It should come as no surprise that Sara Gasiorowski, SNS, Child Nutrition director, discovered this technology innovation through her SNA involvement. She was attending the Indiana School Nutrition Association conference in search of a new POS system, as well as a solution for free and reduced-price meal applications processing. Her eye was caught by the offerings of Cybersoft PrimeroEdge. The icing on the cake was its time-clock system, which was another priority on Gasiorowski’s wishlist. After a visit to Wilson County, Tenn., where schools were successfully using the prospective tech, Gasiorowski was sold. At the start of SY 2012-13, her department began rolling out the new technology, and by SY 2014-15, the time-clock feature was being used full time. No Pain, All Gain Despite its many other operational innovations, the Child Nutrition department at MSD Wayne Township still relied on paper timesheets to track employee schedules; these were extremely irksome and prone to error. So, when the system was introduced—first at a small number of sites and then fully expanded—the staff was very receptive, reports Gasiorowski. The manual calculations necessary with paper sheets have been eliminated, various reports can be run and the overall payroll processing system is said to be much, much easier. “The only challenge is occasionally an employee forgets to clock in,” she notes, adding that “Primero responds very quickly to get any issues resolved.” It’s also possible for managers or supervisors to go back into the system and make time adjustments to correct for a program failure or other problem. Doing Digital Diligence Gasiorowski offers friendly advice for operators looking to adopt or upgrade time-clock—or any other—technology-based practices: “Do your homework!” She recommends visiting school districts that have already implemented the system under consideration, and see it in action and speak with those using it on a daily basis. This gives you incomparable insight into a product, gathering details that aren’t necessarily available when researching online or talking to sales reps. She also insists on involving your own managers, clerical employees and others who will be actively involved in using the technology, as these are the people who will have to learn the new system and change processes and procedures. Gasiorowski took her assistant, a tech staffer and a manager on her field trip to Tennessee to review the PrimeroEdge system. Their input was critical, she notes, in making the final decision. The Future Is Now Anna Apoian, RD, Food Services director, Hawthorne (Calif.) School District, also has implemented enhanced time-clock technology, and she describes a system that is reminiscent of how Back to the Future envisioned society in 2015! The Food Services operation uses biometric facial recognition to track employees’ work days! While it may sound complex, it’s hard to imagine a simpler process for staff to use: An employee simply stands a few feet from the unit, which is mounted on the wall, standing from the unit, which is mounted on the wall, standing still long enough for the equipment to register the individual’s image. The first time the biometric time clock is used, the device measures seven points on the person’s face. For the camera-shy, don’t worry: An actual picture of the individual is not taken or stored. At the start and end of each shift, the employee stands in front of the device and it uses the seven points to recognize the individual and record in/out time. According to Apoian, it’s efficient and beneficial to both the district and the employee as a means of “freeing up necessary time in payroll to do other tasks; providing a better service to employees in regard to accurate reporting of their time worked; and ensuring their time is sent to payroll in a...well, timely manner. It also helps control any misuse or misreporting of time [when using] timecard or punchcard methods.” Safe and Simple Does this sound like something that would interest you for your operation? Hawthorne School District’s IT department was responsible for implementing the system, using Creative Time Solutions, a vendor that offers a wide range of biometric time clocks, timeclock software and workforce management solutions. Foodservice staff initially used a fingerprint recognition technology, but for those responsible for dishwashing tasks close to quitting time, the system posed a problem: “The finger tips get prune-like!” exclaims Apoian. Other classified hourly staff throughout the district still use the fingerprint tech, while cafeteria staff use the facial recognition version. Not only did implementation ensure increased efficiency and better accuracy for all staff, but there was zero pushback when the new system was introduced, reports Apoian. In Hawthorne, union contracts require a method for recording employee time, but no specific criteria are mandated or prohibited, which allows for creative solutions. If any employee voices concern about the system or has a difficult time adapting, then extra attention and training is given to explain the process and its benefits. If, at any point, an employee forgets to clock in or out—which happens upon occasion—then the manager simply contacts the main office to report the time data to be entered manually. All in the Details The rough estimated cost to purchase each time clock was around $300—fairly reasonable for such hightech gear. For up to 500 employees, the fee to cover accompanying cloud service is an estimated $7,500, with the annual software support averaging around $1,500. The annual support for the time-clock units—25 throughout the department—is $3,750. “Using face recognition time clocks along with AESOP or another online system to record absences and vacations is truly the way to go for efficiency, accuracy and cost-effectiveness,” Apoian states. The biggest problem you may encounter is employees who may be a little...short-sighted. “We have an employee who is of shorter stature. She has to stand on a little box in order to have the clock recognize her,” recounts Apoian. “An elementary student saw this once and said, ‘Wow! The ladies have to get weighed in before coming to work.’ Now that would be intrusive!” Effective, accurate, cost-effective and encourages comedic relief—that’s good technology! STAY A-HEAD OF THE GAME Sometimes, the simplest solution can make a remarkable impact. Lori Danella, SNS, nutrition coordinator for Lee’s Summit (Mo.) R-VII School District, was looking to implement headsets at Lee’s Summit High School. Because it’s one of the district’s larger high schools, headphones seemed like a solution that could benefit staff and students alike. Effortless Accessories The problem Danella wanted to address: Lee’s Summit High School employs two cooks and features two serving lines with batch cooking taking place throughout service. When meal periods are at their height, the front-line staffers had a difficult time communicating how much product was left on each line and whether an imminent refill was necessary. Also, if there was an emergency on the line, like a fight, a spill or a theft, there needed to be an effective way for staff to communicate with the manager, so issues could be resolved as quickly as possible. Headsets are fairly common in fastfood restaurants to address similar concerns. But Danella’s employees weren’t too keen on the idea of wearing headsets all day while cooking and serving. Instead, they requested two-way radios as an alternative. Schools in the Lee’s Summit district already provided two-way radios to all hall and lunch monitors, as well as to custodians, so introducing them to foodservice staff was relatively easy. Two-way radios were provided for the main employee on the serving line, as well as the main entrée cook. The need for training was minimal, since the radios are “very simple,” says Danella. She goes on to report that employees have been happy to adopt the technology, because “it makes their job so much easier and saves lots of steps.” Failing batteries have been the only issue to arise, and now spare batteries are always kept in the manager’s office. For now, none of Danella’s other sites have complained about similar communications problems or requested the same technology. But she’s willing to implement radios at any site that wants them. “It was no expense, because we used our Foodservice Reward points to get them,” she explains. Respectable Robbery Even though thievery is generally frowned upon, school nutrition might be a worthy exception—when considering the theft of ideas. With everything else on your to-do list these days, you may not have the time or energy to wrack your brain for strategies to improve service or efficiencies through new technology and other practices. By reading up on these very different ways that common foodservice headaches have been eliminated, hopefully you’ve seen a solution that can be applied in your own operation—or maybe you’ve been inspired to do a little research by networking with your peers in other schools and districts. Remember, whatever issue you are facing, there are likely to be others who have been in a similar situation and found answers. Shannon Goff is School Nutrition’s communications coordinator. Photography by jiunlimited.com.
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