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Webinar Slides Presentation

Check out the full presentation of slides from the webinar. We discussed menu optimization, maximizing profitability, school food innovation and more!

Full Webinar Transcript

Laura Thompson (00:00:04):

We are going to go ahead and get started. Thank you so much everyone for joining us today at this webinar. We are Health-e Pro and we are going to be talking about menu engineering made simple with Joe Urban at School Food Rocks. My name is Laura Thompson. I’m the Marketing Manager here at Health-e Pro, where we do menu planning and nutrient analysis software. And one of our goals is to bring joy to menu planning far as a little bit of an agenda today. I’m going to go over a little bit of housekeeping and we’re going to introduce Joe. Joe is going to give his presentation on menu engineering made simple, and we’re going to try and leave some time at the end for Q&A and then we’ll wrap up from there. So, as far as housekeeping, we are going to be recording the session, so if you have to step out or you’d like to pass it along to a colleague this recording will be sent to all registrants of this webinar.

Laura Thompson (00:03:18):

If you have a question for Joe that you would like answered, feel free to put it in the Q&A box at the bottom, and we will get to it if we can. We’ve had a lot of questions submitted already, and we’re really excited at the themes of the questions that have been coming through. We’re thrilled to be able to tackle some of those as part of this webinar. We’ll also be posting any links in chat that we can. And as far as introducing our presenter today, Joe is someone that we have been following for a long time, and we’re thrilled to be able to be working with him and presenting with him today. He is a seasoned professional with over three decades of experience in the commercial and non-commercial food service segments. He has a passion for creating memorable dining experiences, and he has made a significant impact in various roles throughout his career.

Laura Thompson (00:04:06):

For 15 years, Joe served as the proud owner and operator of a chain of 50’S themed diners in the central Florida area. His dedication to authenticity and quality earned him a loyal customer base and recognition as a prominent figure in the local culinary scene. In a career shift, Joe has spent the last 16 years working in the K-12 segment of the industry, the last 10, serving as the director of one of the largest and most progressive school food service programs in the nation. During this time, he has spearheaded innovative and initiatives to improve the quality and nutrition of meals served to students. His commitment to excellence and forward-thinking approach has led to significant improvements in school food service across the district. If you followed him at all for the last several years, or however many years he’s been on social media, now you’ve seen that in action.

Laura Thompson (00:04:56):

Recognized for his expertise and influence, Joe became the first and only K-12 chef ambassador for the Certified Angus Beef Brand and the Seafood Nutrition Partnership. In these roles, he actively promotes the benefits of incorporating these high quality ingredients into school meals, ensuring students receive nutritious and delicious options. Building upon his vast knowledge and experience, Joe founded School Food Rocks, a company dedicated to revolutionizing the K-12 school food service industry. And through this venture, it continues to provide consultation, training, and innovative solutions to school districts across the country, enabling them to create healthier, more appealing menus that resonate with students. Joe Urban’s, extensive background, entrepreneurial spirit, and unwavering commitment to improving the quality of food service in schools has positioned him as a visionary leader in the industry. His contributions have left a lasting impact, inspiring positive change, and shaping the future of school food service.

Laura Thompson (00:05:58):

And I know that Joe made an announcement this week and he can share a little bit more about that here today. That also impacts what he’s going to be able to do with districts across the nation. So Joe, thank you so much for joining us here today. Zoom has changed how they do polls and poll questions, and it’s a little bit different from how they’ve done in the past. Usually it was just an easy button for us to press on our end, and it looks like it’s a little bit different now. But we would love for you in the audience today to let us know. First question is, do you think you nail menu optimization, menu engineering? So if you could put in the chat Y for yes, N for no or s for somewhat, we would love to get a feel for where you stand on this topic today.

Laura Thompson (00:06:43):

And then once we kind of start to see some of those answers coming through, once we get a feel for kind of what the range is of that, what the spectrum is for that, we would also love to know, the second part of this question is, what keeps you from nailing menu optimization? Is it time? Is it knowing where to start? Is it the knowledge of which levers to pull? Is it the support of the administration? Is it the support of your staff? We’d love to get a feel for what are some of the challenges that you face with this? How confident do you feel in this? So we can help tailor this webinar experience for you today. So I’m just going to start reading off some of the answers here. We’re feeling kind of like somewhat is the bulk of what I’m seeing here. A little bit of no’s, haven’t seen any yeses so far, but I’m sure there are some out there.

Laura Thompson (00:07:30):

But it seems like the genuine feeling is somewhere between no and somewhat. And then for the second question, seems like we’re seeing a lot of a’s time, yes, that is a, a and b knowledge of where to start-seeing some E, A, B, and C. So it seems like all of those seem to be a lot of what people are talking about is those maybe five things are capturing pretty well, what some of the struggles and challenges are. So thank you so much for filling out the question in the chat and giving us a feel for where you’re at. And Joe will be able to speak to this well today. So Joe, thank you so much again for your time. We often talk about the “how” here at Health-e Pro and kind of walking people through the “how.” But we would love for you to start with the “why” of why are we working with menu engineering and menu optimization in school food service programs.

Joe Urban (00:08:27):

Thank you. Thank you, Laura. First big announcement. I am resigning my position as director of Greenville County School’s, effective the end of January so that I can focus all my time and energy on my school Food Rocks brand and my consulting business. That’s a big announcement that was teased there earlier. It was shared on social media last couple days. That’s going to afford me more time to work with districts around the country. And I’m extremely thankful for the opportunity to talk about menu engineering. Looking at the answers I think this is a needed topic, probably even more so than I thought. But start with “why.” I think all of us in school food service really need to start everything with “why.” Why do we do what we do? Why do we train our staffs? Why do we develop menus that are healthy and nutritious?

Joe Urban (00:09:24):

Why do we develop menus that are student approved? The why is always the same for all of us. The why is our students. You know, the work we do impacts the lives of our students. Nobody here needs to hear this, you know the work we do is essential. It is undervalued often, it is overlooked often, but it is absolutely essential to both the students and their wellbeing and the academic achievements of the students. So we all, nobody, if you would ask that poll, why do we do what we do? I’m sure the answer would be for the kids. A lot of us get into this profession because it’s a better work environment for us than the restaurant industry, and that’s a great perk to it. But at the end of the day, it’s the kids.

Joe Urban (00:10:12):

It’s the impact we can have on the kids with the work we do. So then why menu engineering? And looking at the answers, most of them somewhat know menu engineering’s tremendously important for us. If we’re going to continue to run successful food service programs in schools it’s going to allow us to develop menus that not only students like, but that will generate profit for you. Profit is a dirty word in schools. Nobody wants to say we’re in the business of feeding kids. But the fact is, we are in the business of feeding kids. And when we do everything right, we can feed kids better, goes back to the why. We can serve better food. More kids are going to eat with us. If we can nail menu engineering, we can do that in a way that’s going to allow us to be profitable.

Joe Urban (00:11:09):

And we’ll talk a lot of different different avenues on how that’s important in our operations. The why is it’s for the kids. It’s for the kids. I have a long history with menu engineering starting, and I’m old so starting probably 36, 37 years ago, working in family restaurants. They didn’t call it menu engineering then, but the old chef understood how to look at all his menu items, price them appropriately, understand what kind of level they were being taken in, in reference to the other menu items. And that’s how they built successful restaurants. I took that experience into my own own restaurant career when I left college, and I used menu engineering extensively in my diners. It was important for me to, one, understand that I’m putting in a restaurant a little bit different.

Joe Urban (00:12:05):

We used menu engineering even for where we placed certain menu items on the physical menu, so we wanted to track people’s eyes to a certain section of the menu. Because that’s was our most profitable and popular items. We want them to go there. But we would use menu engineering in the restaurants monthly. We would analyze our menus to make sure that we are putting menus out that one our customers wanted and two made sense for us financially. So joining school food service in 2007. We used it here too in Greenville. And when I became director 10 years ago, one of the first things we did in Greenville was to analyze our venues, because it was pretty much the practice in Greenville and in a lot of school districts to menu whatever you thought the kids want or the brokers told you would fit into the meal pattern or into your price range or whatever.

Joe Urban (00:13:04):

So when we looked at our menus, they didn’t make a lot of sense. We were pairing things up that didn’t make sense, both from a culinary aspect, but also from a profit and loss aspect. We would first poll the students understand what they liked on our menus, what they didn’t like. Were we serving unpopular foods that were very expensive? Yeah. We found out we were doing a lot of that. So using menu engineering, we were able to slowly change our menus in a manner that, one, if kids weren’t taking these items, they got removed from our menus. I mean, if they weren’t taking them in a high enough percentage that we wanted them, they would either be removed from our menu or they would be redesigned somewhere else on a menu where they made more sense.

Joe Urban (00:13:50):

A la carte. Also, one of the first things we did in Greenville was analyze our a la carte, because a big part of our business in Greenville is a la carte. It’s a big revenue stream, but there was no thought at all into what items went on there. It was just, here’s a list of 80 things that are allowed to be served and serve them all. And price ranges for them were all over the board. It didn’t make much sense, no rhyme or reason for what kind of products were on there. There were a thousand of them, not quite, but there’s a lot. The pricing didn’t make sense. So we analyzed every bit of our a la carte and streamlined it to just the products that made the most sense for us that were profitable and popular.

Joe Urban (00:14:34):

And we removed all the other items. And there was a good number of those that also had to have price adjustments because in schools your reimbursement changes every year by whatever USDA determines. But my experience in Greenville was that the a la carte pricing hadn’t changed in years. So A package of cookies or crackers that we were selling six years ago before then was the same price that we were selling to now, even though we had experienced price increases along the way. So using menu engineering in Greenville allowed us year one, I mean just for the a la carte, without even including any more reimbursable meals or anything else, just identifying the a la carte items that made sense and made sure that they were priced appropriately. We realized $700,000 more in revenue the following year, and that was serving the same amount of items, just serving the right items and priced right.

Joe Urban (00:15:31):

When we transitioned and started using menu engineering practices for our menu over the course of probably a year/year and a half before we got it just perfect then were able to start realizing a tremendous amount of additional revenue from our reimbursable meals that we were able to reinvest in other ways as well. So that’s my experiences both in the restaurant and in the schools. It’s essential. We still use it to this day. Even though our processes are pretty well in place and we know they’re efficient, but we constantly analyzing our menus and our a la carte menus to make sure that everything is where it needs to be. Let’s go back to the why a little bit.

Joe Urban (00:16:24):

Back to the why. Why is it important we use menu engineering again? We know that many of our students, and this is the same in districts throughout the country, the only quality nutrition they get is when they get it at school. It’s not saying they don’t eat at home, but we do have students in Greenville who don’t eat on the weekend or have a hard time getting food on the weekend. So we know, the better we do with our menu and both quality presentation, the more likely that our students are going to eat, which is going to help them long-term, both short-term. It’s going to give them the, the essential nutrients they need to build a healthy life. It’s going to help them build healthy lifestyles that hopefully will take them long into their adulthood. That is going to help reduce some obesity and other food related diseases later in life if we can help build those healthy lifestyles now.

Joe Urban (00:17:25):

So with menu engineering, we can do a lot of things. And when we realize more revenue and more profit, we can serve better food. We can get more kids eating, okay, now you can go, and we all know and this is not my saying, but it’s been out there forever, that hungry kids can’t learn. I mean that’s been out there longer than I’ve been in this industry. And I thought it was a pretty cool, catchy phrase when I first got into the industry. But you know, after almost 17 years here, I realized that’s true, especially for some of our less privileged students who don’t have good quality nutrition at home. Studies show and our audience here probably understands as well. Those students who don’t get good nutrition on the weekend or have access to healthy foods.

Joe Urban (00:18:15):

They’re more likely to have behavioral issues, health issues they’re more likely not to be focused. They’re not going to have the cognitive ability they need to really be focused in that academic day. It’s a long academic day for these kids. I mean, they’re there as long as we’re at work, which is incredible. And the work we do helps get them through that. So, another reason why menu engineering is important is because it’s going to help us serve better food. So kids want to eat it and they’re going to perform better in the classroom.

Joe Urban (00:18:53):

I get asked this question a lot, and I have for the past 10 years. One thing I’m not too proud to do is show the amazing work that we do in Greenville. And over the years, the quality of, and a lot of it is center of the plate. A lot of people focus on the center plate. How are you doing ribs? How are you doing certified Angus beef? How are you doing all these things? Well, we weren’t always doing these things, you know, using menu engineering practices, we were able to identify ways, like I said before, to make sure that our most popular items and profitable items were menued every day. And by doing so, we were able to, without really increasing our participation, we were able to realize a tremendous amount of more revenue for our program.

Joe Urban (00:19:45):

Unlike most industries, we don’t get bonuses at the end of the quarter to the end of the year. So what can we do with the money we earn? Well, we can invest it into better quality food. And so, in Greenville, what I did little by little, and me and my friend Ron Jones, when he worked with me in Greenville, we did this earlier on, we said, all right, we just realized an extra $700,000 in additional revenue we’re going to get next year. Let’s walk out serving lines every single day. And we did this for probably about eight months, maybe a little over a year. But every day, me and him would walk to another school or go to another school and walk that serving line, and we would pick one item we were least proud of that day.

Joe Urban (00:20:28):

And when we were able to identify that item, it went away immediately. It might be a month later when we ran out of our inventory or our distributor still had some in stock, but when we identified a burger we weren’t proud of, we wanted a better burger. That’s a good example because we used to use one that had 20 something ingredients in it. We were least proud of that burger of everything on that line. Boom, it went away. Menu engineering allowed us to do that. It allowed us to identify things that we weren’t proud of that weren’t real popular, but also with the additional revenue, we were able to reinvest into better food. And so we did that like I said, for probably eight months or a year until we would go to a serving line. We’d go to a different school every day and we couldn’t find anything left that we weren’t proud of anymore.

Joe Urban (00:21:14):

So along that way, we were able to reinvest in better food. But during that time, our participation started to grow also. There’s a thousand other things we were doing to help improve participation rates in our district. But, you know, the quality and presentation of our food, I’m going to tie most of it to that. The customer service and all the other things that, that we taught our staffs to do. How to cook just in time, make sure the quality’s good, very, very important. But by putting the best food we possibly could in that line, we went from a 60 something percent participation rate at lunch to a 78% participation rate. So now at the same time, we’re making sure that all of our menus made sense financially and we were going to be profitable. When you start adding 15 and 20% increases in participation, that that’s a huge add to your district’s fund for your school food service fund. So it helped. That’s how it helped there.

Joe Urban (00:22:18):

All right, another why, and I would imagine most everybody else in the same position I am, as far as how much you could pay your staff. I don’t think any of us in this industry would say that, you know what? School food service cafeteria employees, they make too much money. I don’t think anybody’s ever going to say that. And I love it in Greenville, we we’re over $15 for the minimum at this point. Took us a little while to get there. Probably needs to be $20 to be competitive with our industry. But we’re kind of limited to what we’re allowed to do for our department based on what other hourly work groups are able to for their departments. But that money that we’re able to reinvest because of the menu engineering and serving better food and customer service and all that also helped us as we started increasing pay for our staff.

Joe Urban (00:23:12):

These little $1 and $2 and $3 raises don’t sound like a lot it is to the staff because they’re not making a lot of money. But when you’ve got 800 staff who all start making, you know, $3, $4 more an hour more than they’re making a couple years ago, that’s a significant amount of money. And menu engineering helped us be able to be very efficient and profitable and allows us to offer what I believe is at least a competitive wage, at least as competitive as we can offer. So we can attract more people. Helps retain people. I can’t tell you how many times 10 years ago, we would lose a quality employee for a fast food joint that was paying them 75 cents more an hour. And that’s kind of frustrating because, you know, they’re leaving, you’re leaving, they’re leaving for the money because they need it, but you also know that they’re going to leave and they’re not going to have the kind of quality of work-life balance that they’re going to have in the school. So it was unfortunate that we would lose people over that little bit of money. But now that we’re able to be profitable, we a hundred percent could pay them as much as we’re allowed to pay by our district.

Joe Urban (00:24:23):

This goes hand in hand with that. I have a hundred schools in Greenville at least for the next 45 days then it’s somebody else’s a hundred schools. And if we want to be the best program in the country, we have to make sure that we’re not only paying our staff what we can the best we can, but we also have to make sure that they have what they need to be successful. For us in Greenville, we have very high standards as far as quality and customer service. We put out some pretty aggressive menus, and we expect our people to be able to pull those off. As such, they deserve to have the tools they need to be successful. So we don’t ever ask anybody to do anything without the tools they need.

Joe Urban (00:25:11):

So menu engineering, we’ve been able to reinvest in equipment. There’s not a day that goes by that a piece of equipment is missing or broken in our schools, with the exception of the lead times that our staff does not have what they need we make sure that we do that. And that’s just like in the restaurant industry, the equipment needs to be upgraded regularly. You know we’re, we’re fortunate We got a good maintenance team there that does good PM work on it, but the equipment dies. So that money also helps you make sure that your facilities are up to date and your staff has the equipment they need. Because there’s nothing more frustrating for a staff when they’re asked to do a tremendous amount of work, but they don’t have a working oven.

Joe Urban (00:26:00):

This is a huge one. This is huge. I didn’t realize when I first got into this industry, all the different aspects of the finances of it, learned it pretty quickly. But we’re required to be financially self-sufficient from our school district. And I think everybody here understands that. And that’s important for a lot of reasons. One districts that are completely self-sufficient do not take any money from the district’s general fund. They don’t take any money for in any indirect costs or any fringe benefit costs. When I came into Greenville we were paying about $1.8, $1.6 million of our indirect cost to our district and we weren’t able to support any of our fringe benefit cost. One year after coming, we were able to fully support our indirect cost. And two years later, we were able to fully support all our fringe benefit costs as well.

Joe Urban (00:27:07):

Just to put that in perspective, the department was able to support $1.6 million prior. Two years later we were able to support about $5.6 million. And if you want to make a superintendent happy, which in my experience makes your life much, much easier as a food service director make sure you’re not taking any money from the district general fund. You know, if you think about it from a local taxpayer’s perspective, my district has not had to raise taxes to a certain level. They’ve had to raise local taxes for other things, but has not had to raise taxes due to this food service program in 10 years. And you want to keep a superintendent happy, you do that. You want to keep a board member happy, which sometimes is equally as important as keeping your superintendent happy because nothing like a two year elected official to have a little bit of power.

Joe Urban (00:28:04):

But when you get to stand in front of them with your budget and you say, “Hey, look, again this year, we’re not going to take any money from the District general fund. Matter of fact, we’re going to give you everything you can. And if the law allowed, we’d probably be able to give you more.” So that has not only been a great thing for our district, but you know, it’s a good thing that we can be proud of as well. We’re serving the best food possible to our kids, making sure that all that want to eat, can eat. And at the same time, we’re not hurting our district, because if they had to support our indirect or fringe benefit costs, that means taxes are going have to be raised or they’re going to have to cut back somewhere else, whether it’s a teaching position, an aid position, custodial position, a maintenance position.

Joe Urban (00:28:51):

If they have to do that they’d have to reduce their budget somewhere. So for all those reasons, menu engineering’s tremendously important. Go back to the why everything we do. The first question we should ask ourselves is “How does this help the students?” And there’s a thousand other things that go with it, but menu engineering for us in Greenville has been one of the critical things that have helped us be so successful. Expanding programs- farm to school efforts. We’re doing a lot in Greenville right now. I’m lucky. I got Lauren Kushis here, and she’s a farm to school guru. And helping schools with their school gardens or finding ways to partner with your local producer to get more locally grown products into your school district. Again, all that additional revenue you earned, you’re able to dump back into those things. So Lauren’s able to do some really cool stuff with farm to school programs here, because we’re a profitable program, and I can readjusts those funds to different efforts.

Joe Urban (00:30:05):

All right. This, this one’s still me, right? So what is menu engineering? You see the slides up there, but really it’s just a, it’s just a system to dive into the data that you guys should have available to understand which of your items are profitable, which of ’em are profit popular which one of which of your items are not so profitable and not so popular. And then, you know, using all that data, you can, you can really, you know, fine tune that and either throw items out that aren’t popular, that aren’t par profitable. You can relook at all la carte pricing to see if maybe, maybe I’ve been missing a boat on, on raising prices because nobody wants to raise a price on a, on a cookie for a kid. But my experience in Greenville was we didn’t want it either. And then when I started looking at the numbers, we were making 3 cents on a cookie.

Joe Urban (00:30:57):

That’s if we actually sold and didn’t waste any cookies. So cookie prices had not changed in like eight or nine years. It was necessary for them to change. Now we don’t price our things so high so we’re gouging students. Obviously not, that’s not what we’re in the business of doing. But if we’re going to have an a la carte program, it has to make sense. It has to be a good value for our students, and it has to bring value back to the district because that a la carte money is important for us. It helps feed and fund all those other things that we have.

Joe Urban (00:31:33):

This slide is going to talk about how menu engineering can help. Optimization can help. We’re going to identify high profit margin items strategically price a la carte items, we already talked about that, the design a menu in a way that ensures profitability. One of the big questions I get a lot, and I’ll go back to the center of the play stuff. I’ll get emails or text message or phone calls and they say, “How the hell do you do St. Louis ribs on a menu? Because I’m pricing them for my vendor. And it just doesn’t make any sense to me that you’re going to lose on that item. You got to be spending way too much on that one menu item. Or another good example would be like a prime rib grilled cheese sandwich that we’ve served for a lot of years here in Greenville.

Joe Urban (00:32:17):

And now it’s a different version of that. How can you possibly do that? I know that primary grilled cheese sandwich has got to cost way more than your reimbursement. Well, this is where menu engineering can come in as well. When you see a primary grilled cheese sandwich menu in my middle and high schools here, it’s paired along with, and now it is expensive. It’s paired along with a regular grilled cheese sandwich, and it’s also paired with chicken pizza, burgers and composed salad. So there’s like seven or nine different options out there. So is the primary grilled cheese sandwich expensive? Very much so. How much does it capture on any given day versus the other items? It’s paired up against 15, 20%. Right? So using menu engineering, I can understand I got seven or eight menu items out there every day.

Joe Urban (00:33:12):

I have the data. Health-e Pro does a great job of giving you all that data you need. I know exactly when I menu primary grilled cheese sandwich, a regular grilled cheese sandwich, along with pizza, hamburger, chicken, and salads. I know exactly probably within a half a percent what to expect as far as what students are going to take that day. So yeah, primary grilled cheese sandwich is expensive, but when it’s balanced off with those other, less expensive, but still popular items, it now becomes a viable menu option for our kids. If I served nothing but primary grilled sandwiches one day and nothing but St. Louis ribs the next day, I mean it wouldn’t be possible in our industry, but being able to be smart and to pair menu items in a way that students are going to like those items, but also like, and choose other items that are less expensive, at the end of the day, I know exactly where my menu’s going to be in a three week cycle as far as profitability, because I use that data to pair those menu items up perfectly.

Joe Urban (00:34:19):

Again, we’re collecting data. This is how it starts. Health-e Pro’s system does a great job for you here. You’re going to gather the data on sales cost popularity. You can use your production records for this. You can use other tools in Health-e Pro, and then you’re going to categorize your menu items. And in menu engineering, it’s called a lot of different things. One they could be a race horse, they could be a dog. It’s basically, it’s high profit, low profit, high popularity, low popularity. And once you’re able to identify those in those four different categories, you can really understand and you put those items in those categories, you understand what needs to go and what can stay. And then at the end of the day, you’re going to be able to build a menu that your students love, but also that are going to help you earn that profit you need to put back in your program for all those reasons we talked about earlier.

Joe Urban (00:35:19):

Talked about a la carte pricing already. We’ll talk about it a little bit again. If you have a robust a la carte program, I really encourage you to look at your costs. I encourage you to look at your popularity, look at the number of menu items, a la carte menu items you have out there. Like I said, when I got to Greenville, there were so many, and it was one chip that looked very much like another chip that were selling for the same price, but they were virtually the same thing, but different. One of them we would pay twice as much for as the other one. So look at your a la carte offerings. Try to streamline them to the point that it makes sense. When I came in and did that in Greenville, the staff was nervous.

Joe Urban (00:36:01):

They’re like, “Oh you’re taking away 20 a la carte items. We’re going to lose so much revenue.” And I said, “Don’t worry, we’re not going to lose revenue. We’re going to put out 10 great items every day for them to choose from. Instead of 25, the same amount of kids are going to pick something up. We’re going to get rid of the things that don’t make any sense. Some of them, the kids like, but there were zero profit in them or not enough profit in them for it to make sense. We had just identified a good core group of items that would appeal to everybody. And at the end of the day, we didn’t lose by reducing the number of SKUs we had available. We didn’t lose revenue. All we did was maximize our revenue by directing those sales to the products that made the most sense for us. Some of that was adjusting pricing. Some of that was just eliminating products altogether from our a la carte.

Joe Urban (00:37:00):

Like I said earlier, in my restaurant, we would do this every two to four weeks. We would review the performance of everything. It was a little different. There, we didn’t have a captive audience. It was very important for us that we were able to put menu items that our customers wanted because we needed a back every day, but also ones that we were going to make money on because It was a little bit different than the school food industry. I had to compete with another diner down the street, or the Italian restaurant down the street, and people were price conscious. So we would regularly review. In that industry, I would seek my customer feedback in this industry. You guys should be seeking feedback from students every day.

Joe Urban (00:37:46):

As a director, when I’m in schools I’m talking to staff, I’m talking to kids. I’m talking to kids and middle school kids are kind of fun to talk to because some of their answers are not what you want to hear. But if you talk to enough students, you’re going to get the answers that you need to know. So seek their feedback. What do you want to see on the menus? What don’t you like? What do you like? And, and they’re, for the most part, they’re gonna tell you. Now you’re never going to please everybody. I got 80,000 kids in my district. I’m never going to please 80,000 of them. But I know if I build diverse enough menus that I’m going to appeal to enough of them that I’m going to get the participation rate that I need to help support all the staff I have in this district. So, gather data, seek input, use that information as often as you need to evaluate your menus and your a la carte offerings.

Sandra Meister (00:38:47):

And that’s really how Health-e Pro comes in. Hi everyone, I’m Sandra Meister. I’m a dietician and onboarding coach with Health-e Pro. And this is what I do everyday in the software. So just listening to you, Joe everything that you’re talking about Health-e Pro is built for menu engineering. And so a few things we’re going to highlight today is the Business Insights Dashboard. Our CEO Meg Chesley she says, often the menu drives your business. And that’s what our Business Insights dashboard does and shows you. We’re going to talk a little bit about the usage report and then also pricing in our software.

Sandra Meister (00:39:26):

So any software, current software users of Health-e Pro when you first log on, you see this Business Insights dashboard and it has five key pieces. So here on the left hand side Joe’s talked a lot about menu popularity, profitability and that’s what this is. So this menu popularity or optimization report is showing you colorful bubbles to tell you which are the most profitable and popular. Those are the green, those are the rock stars, and which are least popular, least profitable. Those are the red, those are the dogs. And then the puzzles and workhorses are, are everything in between. And so what it does is it compares your entrees on your menu both breakfast and lunch for any given time period. And it really shows you what’s most popular with the kids, what’s working and what’s not.

Sandra Meister (00:40:12):

And then on the right hand side there’s four other reports. So at a glance when you run your dashboard it shows you, it runs for every site, every menu for the previous week. And so the Total Meals prepared and served report gives you a snapshot of the participation for the previous week, as well as kind of insight into leftovers, you’re prepared versus served your average food cost that shows you the average cost as you from planning the menu to serving the menu and everything in between. And this report can be opened up so you can look closer at waste, closer at leftover, and the amount of money that you’re throwing away. And then that’s really how that menu engineering happens, right? You’re seeing what you’re throwing away, where those waste costs are and adjusting accordingly.

Sandra Meister (00:40:59):

The software also calculates your meals per labor hour, which is all about staffing, making sure that you have enough staff or shifting staff if needed. The software calculates that. It’s a big calculator. And then the last one is a completed production record report. So basically when the staff clicked finished what it does is it tells you in a gauge on the dashboard, if your production records are done, file them away virtually, so to speak. And then you know that you’re ready for an audit, you’re compliant.

Sandra Meister (00:41:34):

That’s a Business Insights dashboard. The next one is the usage report. So those of you that were users in our previous version, version two this is version three, and now we have more visibility around these numbers. So the usage report tells you historical usage of menu items. And so now if you have your forecast feature turned on, you can actually see that information right in the production record. So you can set it on 30, 60, or 90 days and it’s going to tell you the average amount that you’ve prepared, served, and leftover for each menu item. So this is a great way to manage your costs more accurate forecasting, more accurate ordering in the short term. And then long term, there’s kind of a cool thought- when you’re working on commodity processing in February or bids for example, you could run a report like this and see how many Tyson Chicken Nuggets servings you served over the entire year.

Sandra Meister (00:42:26):

So there’s a way to track usage long term. It’s a very valuable tool. Good data in good data out. Joe and I talked about this, right? So putting in ingredient pricing it’s a wonderful tool. It makes all of this come to life. You want to make sure that that’s accurate. But with that, the software’s calculating the cost of your recipes, the cost of your menus, and you can track those year after year. You can add multiple distributors. So you could add your USDA commodity and what price that is for the beef. And then if you have to buy it from a larger distributor, when you run out of commodity dollars, you could run menu cost reports and see the difference that that makes in using those commodity dollars.

Sandra Meister (00:43:15):

I want to tell a little story. Mario Menez, he’s one of he’s a food service director in Beeville, ISD in Beeville, Texas. I’ve worked with him in a couple different districts. He just stands out to me as a success story because once this new version of the software came and the dashboard’s very visible, as soon as you log in, that’s what you see right away. He, he was really curious, you know, how can I use this to help run the business? ’cause He recognizes that school nutrition is a business and he’s gone so far as to teaching his staff members. So the cooks assistant cooks everyone how to use the, how to read the dashboard and how to enter production record data. As we know production records are not the most popular thing to do, but they’re very important and getting the right data in there gives the right results. And so his quote that I like is by using the Business Insights dashboard, he’s able to be in five places at one time. So it’s been very impactful in his district. And just a pleasure to work with him.

Laura Thompson (00:44:15):

I think what’s cool about that too is it shows the importance of data. When he has the right data, it’s as though he’s in five places at once. Ron Jones, we love Ron here at Health-e Pro and he’s had a similar experience. So he was also at the state of South Carolina at the Department of Education and then is currently at Spartanburg Six. And said, when I worked with the State Department, we brought in Health-e Pro to reduce findings on administrative reviews. And as a current director, I can happily say that it works. And I loved this line too- Health-e Pro’s easy review report is a compliance game changer. So it’s just good to see, like when you’re looking for the data in order to help make the right decisions for your program, Health-e Pro offers that. So now we’re opening it up to you to ask questions that you have for Joe on Menu Engineering.

Laura Thompson (00:45:01):

And I’m gonna get started as you’re thinking of some of these questions you can ask, we’ve had dozens and dozens of questions submitted. And so if you have any questions, put them in the Q&A and we’ll get started with a few that have been submitted in advance. So, Joe, we’ve gotten a lot of questions around staffing and the variations of it are basically along the lines of how can you get staff buy-in when you’re doing these recipes, when you’re doing these menu items that require more work, more scratch cooking, how do you get the buy-in? How do you make it work with maybe shortages with staffing or difficulty in training, or how do you make it work?

Joe Urban (00:45:38):

Probably a thousand answers to that. But first and foremost, I have to say, we developed a vision for Greenville. We articulated that vision very clearly to our staffs. We also understood what it was going to take on our staff’s part for this vision to become a reality. So we had a vision that was out there a while. It was two years away. We want to look like this. We didn’t try to get there overnight because we knew staff buy-in was going to be difficult because it was going to take a lot of changes. So the Greenville you see today is a reflection of a thousand incremental forward steps, small forward steps. Many, most of them were small. So we knew early on we wanted to be this exemplary program and we were a good program. What’s it gonna take? So we started with the low hanging fruit.

Joe Urban (00:46:38):

We started with the easiest things that would require the least from our staff, but still have a significant impact on the quality of our meals. And so it started off with canned fruit, just getting rid of canned fruit and going to whole fruit because we feel it’s a better version for our students and it wasn’t going to cost us much money wasn’t going to take much more time. And so just a thousand little steps. So first and foremost, when you have a vision like this, you got to know not everybody’s going to buy in on us. It’s important that we articulated the vision very clearly, that we thought about obstacles our staffs were going to have before we started putting things in place. And then remove those obstacles from them. So some of them may have been- we want to do more scratch cooking and we need more training.

Joe Urban (00:47:35):

It’s a lot to train almost a hundred schools. But we went on that mission and we did it over the course of four years. We sent all of our staffs to culinary training over a week at our local technical college. And so every staff at that point, over the course of four years, because we couldn’t get them all in there. We sent them to culinary training. It was two weeks of culinary bootcamp I’m sorry, one week split up into half like a culinary bootcamp, basic kitchen skills cookery, but also the other half was broken up into nutrition education. The why. So we wanted our staff to really develop this program. And it’s something that’s never been seen before in the country. But we’re telling this to people that have been doing this for 20 years, 30 years, some of them good work they’ve been doing for 20, 30 years.

Joe Urban (00:48:25):

They’ve been doing everything anybody’s ever asked for them. They’ve been doing it. So we didn’t want to come in here and say, “Hey look, all that work you’ve been doing for 20 years, that’s junk. We’re getting rid of that. You guys suck. We’re not going to do that anymore. We’re going to go this direction.” We said, “You guys have done remarkable work, remarkable work all this time. Here’s why we need to do things a little bit different.” So that’s where the 20 hours of nutrition education came in. We helped them understand obesity rates in South Carolina. We helped them understand hypertension and what some of the crappy processed food that kids are eating at home is doing to them is going to have in their long term. And we changed the mindset of a lot of people. So the cooking part of it was important, but I think equally, if not more, was the why.

Joe Urban (00:49:10):

Again, we always start with the why. If we wanted them to buy into this new vision, why when you’re telling me for 20 years I’ve been doing this, it’s no good. No, you did great work. Here’s why we need to do a little bit better. So that said, a lot of employees, I think we were 720 at that point- we’ve grown since then, not everybody wanted to come on this journey with us and that was okay. We tried to get those that wanted to come on this journey, give them all the tools they needed to be successful to come on this journey. Some of them said, I’m out. And that’s okay. So if you’re thinking of making massive changes, I think you need to clearly articulate what your vision looks like before you articulate it to your staff, understand what the obstacles they’re going to have and meet in your vision and do everything in your power to remove those obstacles.

Joe Urban (00:49:59):

And then do it a little bit at a time. We would throw one or two things at them. They’d master that. We would throw one or two more things at them. And after a year we were unrecognizable. But not everybody came on this journey with us. And that’s okay. It is not bad. They weren’t bad people. Eh, a couple of them were bad people. Most of them weren’t bad people, but this wasn’t what they signed up for and that’s okay. But now everybody that comes on and wants to work for us in Greenville, they know what the vision is. We tell them upfront, I don’t know what you know about school food service, if you’ve been in it before, you haven’t been in it before. Or if you get your knowledge from your sixth grader, who I guarantee is lying to you because they lie here’s what it really is.

Joe Urban (00:50:45):

It’s a lot of work. We’re going to give you the training you need to get there. But you’re going to be tired. You’re going to be lifting, you’re going to be cooking, you’re going to be sweating. Kids are going to cuss at you. You’re going to be short staffed because people like to call out a lot lately. It’s going to happen, but we’re going to do this. And if you’re willing to come on this journey, we’d love to have you on our team. So we think it’s very important. Some people hear us in the interview process, like you trying to talk them out of a job. Some of them, yeah. I’m trying to make sure that they understand this is what this is going to look like. So you have to share the vision. You have to understand the impact your vision’s going to have on the people who are really doing the hard work in the schools because at the end of the day, I can have all these visions, all these plans create good recipes. But unless you have good people who buy into your vision, nothing’s going to be successful.

Laura Thompson (00:51:41):

Awesome. Thank you so much for that. A lot of really good nuggets within there. And similar along those lines, we got a lot of questions around how do you start incorporating more scratch recipes and how do you get staff buy-in for that as well? Could you speak to doing more scratch?

Joe Urban (00:51:58):

Yeah and I want to make it clear because some people are like, “Oh, there Greenville’s a scratch cooking district.” Yeah, we do some scratch cooking, and every district is a little different based on the amount of staff you have the infrastructure, the equipment you have in your kitchen. We hosted, somebody came to visit Greenville today and we spent a few hours with her. She’s from North Carolina and loved what she saw. She going to take some best practices back with her. And she said, “How can I do this in my district?” So I asked her the questions, “What does your kitchen look like? How many staff you have?” Well, they have four people in every school. That’s all they have. So the model we developed in Greenville, I forget the original question, you have to repeat it. The model we we developed in Greenville, it’s not going to work for her, but she could do something like it. So, I’m sorry, ask that question one more time.

Laura Thompson (00:52:51):

How do you incorporate more scratch and how do you get staff excited about it?

Joe Urban (00:52:56):

Okay, so little at a time. So Greenville does a lot of scratch cooking. We do a lot of speed scratch cooking, but we also use a good number of high quality prepared products. So for me, that’s the perfect balance for a school district finding out, depending on what your staffing levels are, what your kitchen infrastructure looks like. So somewhere in there you can find a level where you can do a certain percentage of scratch cook and certain percentage of speech crash, certain percentage of high quality prepared items. And again, that’s different for every district. I don’t think there’s a right way or wrong way. I just understand from being in this industry for 17 years now, that we’re all very different. Greenville was the first and only school district I ever worked in. So before I really started traveling around the country, visiting other schools or having other schools from around the country visit us, I just assumed everybody had the same kind of staffing I had, had the same kind of equipment or the ability to buy new equipment or hire new staff- when it’s very different every where you go.

Joe Urban (00:54:01):

So how do you start doing that? I think first you got to determine where do you think your balance needs to be? I mean, if you’re doing none right now, start with some speed scratch recipes, right? You’re utilizing some prepared high quality products, but you’re incorporating that into a dish that you’re making speech scratch at that point. That’s a great way to do it. And I wouldn’t do too much at once. I think you have to understand your staff and where they’re at in their capacities and just start adding a few here and there. There’s some easy ones out there. We’re putting all our recipes on Health-e Pro. All the School Food Rocks recipes. I don’t know if we got 50 or a hundred on there, but we’re constantly uploading more all the time. So you’ll be able to see some of ours and vast majority of them are speed scratch. It’s a great way to start. So best advice first, identify what your capacity is and then inject a little at a time.

Laura Thompson (00:55:01):

Awesome. Very interesting insight to make sure that the changes are incremental so that that way it becomes sustainable. So that’s fantastic.

Joe Urban (00:55:10):


Laura Thompson (00:55:11):

As you were kind of talking there, it feels like a good segue into two of the next questions that we’ve gotten. One is, where do most districts fall short in this process of menu engineering?

Joe Urban (00:55:23):

I think you look back to your original Q&A to begin with, right? I think the vast majority of them said they’re somewhat comfortable with it and not comfortable with it. I think there’s two categories of, I hate to put people in two categories because that’s not right because not one’s not good, one’s not bad. It’s not like that. But I think there’s two stances on this. People that come into this industry understanding or learn that it’s important to run this like a business. And there’s the other side who, for one reason or another, they don’t have enough staffing or just they weren’t taught this. I mean, all they want to do is feed the babies. So that’s a great thing. I mean, we all want to do that. Those that just want to focus on feeding kids and not worry about the rest of it, I think they’re missing the boat because with some easy, easy steps using menu engineering, it’s not going to require a ton of your time or effort and even ask people for help to help you with this, you can make dramatic changes to your program.

Joe Urban (00:56:37):

They’re going to help you feed your kids even better, right? And so everybody, I don’t say everybody. I think most of us in this industry is 14,000 plus districts. I don’t know how many staff, the vast majority of people are in this for the right reason to make a positive impact on the lives of students. And for some people, it’s just like the broker tells me, sell this. It costs this, it meets two and two, and we’re good. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you learn some menu engineering practices, not hard, you’re going to realize a ton of money. I promise you, if you’re not using it already, you will identify a ton of money without selling one additional a la carte item, one additional reimbursable meal that you’re going to be able to reinvest into your people, your equipment, your food, whatever you need to support your district.

Laura Thompson (00:57:29):

Awesome, awesome. There was one question that came through specifically asking about equipment. In your opinion, what is the single most effective piece of cooking equipment under the hood?

Joe Urban (00:57:41):

It depends on your menu. Like I said, every district is a little different. It depends on how much staff you have, what you want your menus to look like. My kitchen’s in Greenville. I was in a restaurant business all my life before this. I never had kitchens like this. Mine are so well equipped. I get every piece of equipment you could possibly need. If I were to take one of them away, our menus would look different. So I think that answer is unique to each individual school district and what your vision is and what you want to do. If you want to do more scratch and speed scratch cooking and you don’t have a brazen pan, eh, you probably need a brazen pan. If all you have are ovens, there’s probably a variety of pieces of equipment that are going to be most important to you. I think that’s an individual hard to say what the right answer is. Everybody needs an oven, right? Everybody needs an oven, but depending on where you want to go with your program that’s going to differ everywhere.

Laura Thompson (00:58:45):

Very cool. Here’s another one. This one’s specific to participation. What is more important, planning the menu or promoting it?

Joe Urban (00:58:55):

Ask me that question one more time.

Laura Thompson (00:58:58):

What is more important? Planning the menu or promoting it?

Joe Urban (00:59:04):

They’re both very important, but planning the menu’s got to be most important, right? So I don’t put out a menu in Greenville and I haven’t in 10 years, maybe nine years, maybe the first year I was figuring it out. In nine years I haven’t put out a menu where I didn’t already know it was a winner. Both for what students want to eat and both with, and also in which percentage of each of those items they’re going to eat. I can get it right within a half a percent or percent. And districtwide, that’s a big feat. So planning the menu’s got to be most important. So I got a vision of what my program needs to look like. So my menu’s got to be planned accordingly. If I want this to be a profitable program, I better have some good data to understand how I’m pairing these items up together.

Joe Urban (00:59:55):

Because if I want to have a primary grilled cheese sandwich on there, I better have something else the kids really love and are going to take equally, if not more than that primary grilled cheese sandwich, you know? So it’s a game of understanding the data and pairing those things up together. So at the end of the day, if you don’t plan a menu around your vision and menu around a program that’s gonna be profitable, you can promote all you want, you’re going to be broke. It doesn’t matter. You’re going to menu things that kids don’t want and are unprofitable. So a hundred percent that’s important. Now, for those that have known me or follow me or heard about me, I promote the hell out of my meals. And that’s important. And that goes back a long way.

Joe Urban (01:00:43):

It’s not to brag. People say, “Oh, you say your staff is the best in the country.” Of course I do. And everybody else on this thing should say the same thing on social media because they’re the most under-recognized work group in the country, in my opinion. So they need all the praise they get. I bet there’s 14,000 greatest cafeteria staffs out there. So promoting food and staff is what I’ve done for a long time. But it was important for me early on as we were transitioning our program, which coincided with the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act and everybody wanted to say, “All right, food sucks now because Michelle Obama and Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act.” I don’t get political about school food. It’s not smart for us to do that. I have my political views on it, but I don’t share it.

Joe Urban (01:01:29):

My goal is the why is to serve great food to kids so they can learn and achieve more and be healthier in the long term. But it was important for me to start promoting way back when to combat that negative message around Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act because I wanted my community to know, “I don’t care what you’re hearing on the news, fake news, real news, whatever it may be about some mystery meat damage, your kid’s not eating that here.” I wanted my superintendent, my school board, my administration and the principals and the mothers and fathers and grandmothers and the whole community who their tax money goes to support our district. Whether or not they got kids in the schools. I wanted them to know that I’m doing the best dang job I can for their kids. And so that’s where the promotion piece came into. But you can’t promote a crappy menu that makes you broke. So planning is most important.

Laura Thompson (01:02:28):

Awesome. Well, we are out of time, but goodness, Joe, I could listen to you answer these questions and talk about menu engineering all day. This has been a fantastic, super insightful. Thank you everybody for attending, for asking the questions. We will be doing more webinars with Joe, so keep your eyes peeled for when the next ones are going to be. If you have any other questions, we also are going to have a post webinar survey. So whatever other topics you would like to see, we want to make sure that we are providing webinars that help you in what you’re doing in your job. So please check that out, fill that out. And thank you again so much for coming. Joe, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and your insights with us. We’re excited to see what’s coming with School Food Rocks.

Joe Urban (01:03:08):

Wow. Thank you so much for having me. This has been fun. I can’t believe that was an hour, I was just getting started.

Laura Thompson (01:03:17):

We’ve got more time the next couple times, so we’re looking forward to it. Okay. Thank you again so much everyone.

Joe Urban (01:03:23):

Thank you.