Menutainment Chef: Sneak Peek


   Working in a college cafeteria comes with its challenges and rewards. The work life becomes more of a social life as the day progresses! Not being on time may create a havoc but for a reason. Anyone missing in the kitchen means the other employees have to multitask and work just as fast to cover for the missing individual. Even drivers who transport ingredients, meals, and cookware from location to location are expected to be on time. Late meals usually mean late classes or ending up in a class starving. From Chef to server, from cleaner to dishwasher everyone has a role to play in this ever-growing consumer market. One may find it a little tricky to follow all the standards and rules especially for a clean workplace but they soon find out it directly impacts food safety and cafeteria standards. Multitasking, Organizing, and Vision are key skills one learn at work. These key skills are important not only for employment but great for entrepreneurs who want to start their own business!

   First of all, multitasking is an essential skill for cafeteria or even restaurant employees. One may have to switch from being a menutainment chef to serving burgers, hot dogs, and fries the next day. Even being a menutainment chef means one has to arrange for ingredients in the kitchen as they arrive from the delivery van. Whether its vegetables or sauce, pasta or eggs all have to be arranged. Food containers like those found at subway must be sorted and replenished with tomatoes, salad, carrots, red pepper, green pepper, onions, meat, ginger, grated Cheese and so on. If something is missing or low in quantity/volume, it has to be ordered the day before not the day the item is served. One must be able to analyze consumer traffic and guess the quantity of food product one might need the following day. Since sauce like pasta sauce must be prepared before serving so additional quantity leads to waste while being short means one runs out of business very soon. Since the queue before and after the class times is relentless, one may even have to work on two to three frying pans at a time. Furthermore, there are several types of burgers on the menu which means mixing them up for some customers who order them an hour before they come to get served, usually ends up in a disaster. On the other hand, if the burgers take too long to grill, some customer in the queue might even ask for the supervisor. Not having enough potatoespoutine or fries also lead to complaints. Those who can’t wait for burgers usually settle for a pizza slice! Though one might think it would be good for business, throwing extra burgers away to maintain fresh food standards is not always profitable. Though it might be a cafeteria, service standards are those of McDonald’s or Subway. Dishwashing often with greasy cookware is also part of everyone’s job. The grease usually means dishes don’t come out clean from the dishwasher and hence must be removed with a scourer/scraper, a time- consuming process. Trash from all over the cafeteria must be replaced to keep up with the sanitation standards set by the food regulation industries and checked by food safety inspectors. Finally, clean washrooms for both office staff and cafe employees are part of the clean workplace safety standards. Failure in either of these tasks results in employment suspension or termination in many cases. Speed is an essential element which either dictates extra hours on the time clock and profit or loss in business.

  Another important skill is organizing. Since the chef for the main dishes as well as a menutainment chef both have to share the same storage rooms and ingredients, organizing the cold storage is never so easy.  Pizza dough must be separated in advanced as frozen dough in cardboard boxes take considerable time and effort separating them. In a pizza shop, a pizza would also mean making cardboard trays for the pizza in advance. Vegetables and fruits must be emptied from cardboard boxes to maintain freshness. Rotten items must be taken out of the trash. Milk and yogurt must be arranged as per their expiry date. Milk crates with recent expiry dates that go unnoticed means tremendous loss as each crate carries enough milk to the last couple of days depending on the food items being served that week. Since milk and yogurt expiry dates are not always easy to find, crates with expiry tags may be a better alternative solution for organizing. Rotten food items not only lead to loss but also bring bad odor and possibly insects and rats with it. This could end up being a disaster for any business in a food market where food safety standards and clean workplace are thoroughly inspected to prevent disease,  insects, rats, sickness, and lawsuits. Even serving tables and buffet tables must be kept clean at all times. Finally, packaging items like plastic cutlery, dishes and bowls must be organized, sorted and replaced as per consumer demand and use. In fact, food packaging items are so extensively used in the cafeteria that there is an entire room dedicated to this subject. Hence, organization plays an important role in the functionality of the cafeteria or any food business in general.

  Vision is another key skill in the food business. Being able to keep up with consumer trend that changes with the ever growing and diverse student population means coming up with new recipes and ideas. Many times, a new food dish would be experimented with to come up with a routine that suits students and customers from diverse backgrounds. Surveys are often carried out to weigh dishes and selection in terms of their demand. Then, is the question of quantity and volume. Anything in excess results to wastage and loss while something short means cafeteria takes several lunch breaks throughout the day. Many international students and students who live on campus carry cafeteria lunch, breakfast and dinner cards. These cards are paid for as part of the tuition fees for the program. Hence, juggling between prearranged menus and introducing new items can be a challenging task not only for staff but also for employees. Since there are nutrition, hospitality, as well as management programs in the college, the food and ingredient choices made by staff and chef, are often key as they reflect not only the quality of the food in the cafeteria but also the college programs, certifications, and courses. As part of the reflection, an app that would update food menus and the prices could let students know in advance about the food items and prices available in the cafeteria. This way students and customers could place orders in class or on the go saving time.  As a result, vision plays a key role in the food business.

    In conclusion, working at a college cafeteria comes with its challenges and rewards. A resume with college cafeteria experience could be helpful for future employment or business despite the challenges. Both challenges and rewards lead to growth not only as an employee or student but as an entrepreneur.

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