By Cecily Walters 2016-01-25 12:05:44
Maximize Your Multipurpose Cafeteria What equipment helps keep a multifunctional cafeteria running smoothly? Three directors share firsthand advice. Serving a large number of students in a compressed timeframe presents challenges for most school nutrition professionals across the country. It certainly takes effort and ingenuity to set up and serve meals and then clean up a physical location that’s only being used at mealtimes. But for those operators who serve meals in schools that use the cafeteria space not only for meals but also physical education classes, study halls, club meetings, assemblies and other purposes, performing their duties requires some added creativity—and some thoughtfully purchased equipment. Several school nutrition directors with one or more multipurpose cafeterias in their operations discuss their experiences and share practical tips for colleagues who may be new to the multi-functional cafeteria arrangement or looking for additional ideas for making these spaces work. Loudoun County Public Schools, Ashburn, Va. “Envision a large rectangle with classrooms around the perimeter. The space in the middle is the gym, the auditorium and the cafeteria,” details Becky Domokos-Bays, PhD, RD, SNS, supervisor of school nutrition services and SNA president-elect, describing two of the spaces in her district that function as multipurpose cafeterias. Both of the sites are designed this way permanently and are located in “very small, very old community schools,” ranging in size from 80 to 150 total students in grades K-6, with just one teacher per grade level. Breakfast and lunch are served at both sites, with a daily average for each site of 15 breakfasts and between 30 and 60 lunches served daily. In one of these multipurpose spaces, the kitchen and serving line are contained behind a wall-like divider. The second space is smaller and features a serving line that faces into the multi-use space. That serving line is stationary and remains fixed in place, even when the space functions as the gym or auditorium. In this smaller location, each day the school nutrition staff place fruits and vegetables on the cafeteria tables, while setting up a computer point-of-sale (POS) station. For this school site, Domokos-Bays is currently on the lookout for a kiosk with hot well capabilities that staff can roll back into the kitchen following the meal. In both locations, the kitchens are fully functioning with stationary equipment, says Domokos-Bays. In the multipurpose areas, students sit at rolling fold-up tables that are set up and put away when necessary by custodial staff. “It seems to me that [the shared space] is almost always set with the tables. But for a stage-based event or function, the custodians change out the tables and set chairs,” she explains. While the facilities department purchases the equipment for these multi-use spaces, rather than the school nutrition department doing that procurement, Domokos-Bays is definitive about the styles of pieces that work best in this type of cafeteria. “We need attractive, flexible, mobile pieces that can do hot and cold menu items. They also need to be on the smaller side due to space restrictions,” she says. In offering advice for other school nutrition operators who oversee multi-use cafeteria spaces, she notes, “I think every situation is probably unique” but suggests looking for “the most flexible, portable pieces of equipment you can buy and store.” Ogden (Utah) School District Making the most of multipurpose cafeterias is business as usual for Director of Athletics and Support Services Ken Crawford and his school nutrition staff. That’s because 18 of the district’s 20 schools serve lunches in cafeterias that also function in other capacities. Specifically, the elementary schools, junior high schools and alternative high school are home to multipurpose cafeterias. The Ogden school nutrition team serves about 8,900 lunches per day in a district with a total enrollment of approximately 12,500 students. “Most of our elementary school cafeterias are also used for physical education classes, because they are the only gym facilities in the school, as well as for assemblies, because they are the only space big enough to house the entire school,” notes Crawford. He adds that the alternative high school also uses its cafeteria for physical education, while the district’s junior high schools sometimes hold wrestling practice in their dining areas. Many of these multi-use spaces also are the meeting places for afterschool clubs. The majority of Ogden School District’s school sites are older buildings, and the multi-use space arrangements are designed to be permanent. However, even newer schools in the district still rely on a multipurpose room, reports Crawford. “But now they tend to have a larger space that is separated by a big dividing wall. This way, a PE class can operate during lunch hours and not interfere with meal service.” The school nutrition program makes use of stationary equipment for food preparation, service and cleaning-related functions in these cafeterias. When it comes to the mobile equipment, lightweight but durable folding tables with rollers are essential. Specifically, the school nutrition team finds that SICO’s 16-ft. bench tables are easy to work with when setting up and taking down. The Ogden operation also uses tables from Palmer Hamilton and Midwest Folding Products. “The newest school we are building will have tables and benches that fold up and stack into the wall, because the cafeteria is also used as the gym and auditorium. So, [this feature] will be a good space saver,” asserts Crawford. The multipurpose cafeterias throughout the district do not serve hot items, but instead make use of Cambro’s cold salad and food bars for meal service. These sites also feature POS kiosks and/or mobile cash register stands positioned at the end of the serving line. Crawford’s operation uses cash register/POS stands by Cambro Manufacturing and stainless steel stands from Lakeside. To accommodate the POS kiosks, the district installed data lines into the power floor boxes that are accessed by the kiosks at each multipurpose site. Milk coolers also must be transportable in Ogden’s multi-function cafeterias, Crawford says. The program looks to those mounted with wheels and manufactured by True Manufacturing and Nor-Lake. Crawford identifies another crucial element for these milk coolers: “Having multiple accessible power outlets is key, so the milk can stay in the coolers whether the coolers are on the serving line or stored for the night,” he explains. Setting up the tables for the day’s service takes the custodial staff about 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the size of the school. “The point-of-sale [kiosks], milk coolers and salad and food bars usually only take a few minutes to get set up and in place by the kitchen staff. It takes maybe another 20 minutes to get them all stocked for [service],” Crawford details. When not in use, the POS systems are rolled into the kitchen, if there is sufficient space, or pushed up against the wall. When possible, Crawford and his team prefer that this equipment be locked up, so it does not become damaged during PE classes or other activities. As a result of operating most of his district’s cafeterias as multipurpose spaces, Crawford is well-equipped to provide recommendations for other school nutrition professionals with similar constrictions. First, he says, “Having the flexibility to divide your cafeteria so that other activities can go on while breakfast or lunch is served is a great asset.” Crawford also notes that serving breakfast in the classroom has been a win-win approach, as this arrangement places less stress on the custodial staff to clean up the cafeteria and move tables out of the way for morning activities. Willamina (Ore.) School District Unlike the other school systems spotlighted in this article, all of the students in Nutrition Services Director Lynne Shore’s school nutrition program eat in the same cafeteria, because all three of the district’s schools are located at the same address! The cafeteria was designed to be used for multiple purposes when the building was constructed 30 years ago. Specifically, the multi-functional space is used as an auditorium, a music stage and a practice facility for indoor sports, as well as a serving and dining area. During a one-and-a-half-hour time slot that is comprised of four individual lunch service periods, Shore and her staff serve some 650 students each day. (Breakfast is served in the classroom throughout the district.) Given the other required uses for the space, Shore looks for tables that can be easily folded and take up minimal room, while seating as many children as possible. Similarly, the salad bars and serving steamtable wells in the multi-use space “must be able to fold as small as possible to fit into the storage area after service. We also have to make sure our point-of-service computers are on carts [which are home-built] and are wireless or can be plugged into a wall jack,” Shore explains. Though the kitchen space itself is permanent rather than mobile and contains conventional equipment found in a full-prep kitchen (including ovens, a dishwasher and a walk-in refrigerator and freezer), Shore and her team still must consider how this multi-use space can work most effectively when it is being used as a cafeteria. Some creativity is required at times. For example, the school nutrition team use tables as walls to divide the cafeteria between the serving area and the dining area and find that barrier stanchions can be useful for helping guide students through the cafeteria, Shore describes. The custodial staff set up the cafeteria first thing in the morning and tear it down immediately after lunch. This is done to ensure that the shared space can be used for its other purposes in the afternoon. Additionally, mobile kiosks are wheeled into the kitchen or dry storage room during non-lunch times. Shore’s advice for other school nutrition operations furnishing or updating multipurpose cafeterias is similar to that of Loudoun County’s Domokos-Bays. “I would advise [operators] to try to get products that are dual-purpose, can fold up easily and can be moved by one person,” Shore recommends. Equipped to Excel Successfully managing the logistics of operating a multipurpose cafeteria that you share with other school departments or activities can require a different thought process than you might use for your district’s traditional serving and dining facilities. However, one common element in managing either type of cafeteria is remembering the value of equipment that works most effectively in the respective space. Being familiar with the space you’re working with, as well as clearly designating responsibilities between the school nutrition team and the custodial staff are essential management fundamentals in maximizing the efficiency of your multipurpose cafeteria. You’re The Expert A snapshot of the districts that shared their experiences with furnishing multipurpose cafeterias in this month’s column. • Loudoun County Public Schools Ashburn, Va. Website: www.lcps.org Director: Becky Domokos-Bays, PhD, RD, SNS District enrollment: ~75,000 Number of schools: 87 • Ogden School District Ogden, Utah Website: www.ogdensd.org Director: Ken Crawford District enrollment: ~12,500 Number of schools: 20 • Willamina School District Willamina, Ore. Website: www.willamina.k12.or.us Director: Lynne Shore District enrollment: 858 Number of schools: 3 Cecily Walters is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore., and a former managing editor of this publication.
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