Wednesday, April 13, 2016

More Than Just Food Service

I am currently doing my rotation at Riderwood retirement community for six weeks. My partner and I have been very busy here and learning so much (which I could say for all of the rotations, really!). The biggest thing that we do here is prepare a large theme meal that is served in one of the restaurants at the end of our rotation. There have been other intern blog posts about that project, so I am going to focus on the more behind-the-scenes projects that we also complete while here.

When people think of food service, the first thing that usually comes to mind is the actual cooking preparation in the kitchen and then serving meals.  However, there is much more that goes on, and this rotation has a large variety of projects for us so we can be very well-rounded in case we decide to pursue a food service type career in the future. We were able to look at the binders from years of past interns, which was a great source of inspiration and guidelines for our projects.

While here, we complete SWOT analyses.  These are a broad picture analysis of the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats in a situation so that managers can determine how to continue to improve the business both for profit and for customer satisfaction. I think this is a project where interns can really take initiative and produce a result that is truly helpful to the organization, so I was glad to do it. For one of our SWOT analyses, we looked at Windsor restaurant, one of the five restaurants on this campus.  We interviewed residents, employees, and managers for information as well as observed the restaurant in progress for a couple of days before typing up our report and submitting to our preceptor.  I am proud of what we created, especially since I think we identified some opportunities that they have not considered in the past.
Open source image from Wikipedia
Besides typed projects, we also learned a lot about staff management. Most days, we attended the pre-shift meetings for both the waitstaff and the chefs. We began by observing these meetings to see how the managers communicate and set expectations in order to have the best possible functioning department, with efficiency and good morale. Heading into this rotation, I only knew about the theme meal from other interns, but this rotation exceeded my expectations by teaching me about employee management and food service management also.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Elective: Vegetarian Resource Group

I had the pleasure of completing a rotation at the Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG) for the last two weeks. I had known about them in the past, from their newsletters and booths at conferences. They are a non-profit organization in Baltimore, MD that has the mission: "we are dedicated to educating the public on vegetarianism and the interrelated issues of health, nutrition, ecology, ethics, and world hunger." In such a short time, I was able to learn so much and I loved the experience. 

One project that VRG has been working on is promoting vegetarian meals at Our Daily Bread, a local hot meal program that serves breakfast and lunch to anybody in need of food. They have a high number of requests for vegetarian meals, but many of the donations are not vegetarian, so we are working to promote more vegetarian donations and recipes there. I got to talk to many people involved with the program to learn about its history and efforts to include vegetarian offerings. Brigette (the volunteer coordinator at VRG) and I went to Our Daily Bread to see it in action and see how popular the vegetarian meals were. We were again told that many people request vegetarian meals, but they usually get the same plate of salad, fruit, peanut butter and jelly or mac n' cheese, bread, and dessert. One food service director enthusiastically told us that they would love more vegetarian donations, so the next day I cooked three types of vegetarian casserole recipes that VRG has formulated to add to their donation recipe database. This was a great hands-on experience to be able to test out these new recipes and suggest changes to make them easier. When I delivered them the next day, I was told they would be used very soon! I wrote blog posts for VRG's website about the whole process in order to encourage others to do the same. It was great to feel like I had a direct impact on providing a variety of nutritious meals to less fortunate people who are requesting vegetarian meals.

I also helped a dietitian at VRG to do research for a webinar she is putting together. I was tasked with sorting through the various laws and government organizations to find any requirements or guidelines for meals served to senior citizens, so we could try to propose vegetarian menus that would meet those guidelines. I learned a lot during this process and hope it will also be able to make it easier for large federal facilities and nursing homes to provide great meals to vegetarians. One particular law does not currently allow tofu as a meat substitute in adult daycare facilities, but the bill to change it is being considered now, and I'll be rooting for it to pass!

In the VRG office, I was also able to help with some more day to day tasks. I helped sort through applications for scholarships and compose replies to the applicants. I researched vegetarian and vegan restaurants to write listings to add them to their international restaurant guide, which was a difficult task indeed: it's hard to look at so many delicious menus without being able to eat the food! But I didn't go too hungry, as there were many vegan food samples sent by companies to VRG, that I was able to try and write reviews about.

Overall, I really enjoyed being in this supportive environment that is dedicated to learning and supporting learning in others. The astounding number of books and resources in the office have given me a big “to read” list that I am excited to get started with. I am sad to be leaving so soon, but it won't be the last time I see them! I've signed up to help with the VRG benefit at a local vegetarian restaurant next month. Also, every year all 10 dietetic interns visit VRG for one day to educate them on how to work with vegetarian patients and clients in their careers, so I look forward to seeing them again on that day in May.

Maria Pittarelli