By Flavor & The Menu
November 3, 2020
Can you think of a demographic that loves customization more than college kids? Or a collection of diners with a broader spectrum of cultural flavor influences, lifestyle diet preferences or allergen-sensitive requirements? Now, take away the option for customization in a setting that is built for all-you-care-to-eat dining. That is a scenario that has played out on university campuses across the country in sweeping measures installed to help curb the spread of COVID-19.
The culinary team at Stanford Residential & Dining took the challenge head on, determined to maintain their high standards of flavor, quality and, yes, variety. The lessons learned here at Northern California’s Stanford University on how to guide guests happily from formerly customizable options to newly curated ones can be applied across foodservice segments.
Jackie Bertoldo, assistant director of nutrition, uses Stanford’s “performance bar” as illustration of change in action. It was, she says, “a salad bar gone wild” with a huge host of local, organic produce, a bevy of composed salads, and then a variety of dressings and garnishes. “They could start where they wanted and add in whatever looked good. With COVID, we had to choose for them, so our approach shifted entirely.”
Bertoldo describes her culinary team’s approach to transitioning customizable dining to curated programs as “guided customization.”
“We took a step back with the goal of being intentional on flavor design,” she says. “These challenges have actually given us opportunity to create more curated, themed experiences as guests look at all of the new choices on our performance bar.” Flavorful, trend-forward plates and bowls are now on offer, wrapped and ready for takeout. The students, faculty and staff on campus follow a strictly managed traffic flow through the line, viewing choices in advance online or at the point of entry.
Diners with allergies are not left out, finding equally flavorful options available; the Mindful Meals program meets specific health standards while keeping flavor in focus. The vegan and gluten-free Spinach, Potato & Chickpea Curry with masala, garlic and curry sauce is one recent offering. Other curated dishes include the Chicken Tikka Masala with cumin-scented basmati rice and seasonal roasted vegetables.
“We’ve focused much of our innovation around curated bowls because students gravitate toward them,” says Bertoldo. “We’re reimagining customization in the time of COVID, and it’s working. Items that can be served separately, like pepitas or dressings on the side or protein choices—that gives them some level of customization, which is good. These are some of our strongest menus because of the intention that went into them.”