Lisa Marino Interview, Part 2
Hopefully you had a chance to read part 1 of 2 of my interview with Lisa Marino HS manager at Creekside HS. She takes a really aggressive approach of going after her customers. If they are on her campus she is going to try and feed them.
Here is how a High School cafeteria manager increased her sales.
Kern: Definitely! You mentioned that one of your challenges was opening your school. On my visit, I was really impressed by the fact that you took the initiative to open more lines for students because the number one complaint when I do focus groups is that “the lines are too long.”
What advice can you give to another high school manager with 3 or 4 lines open? Talk about what you did to open more lines, and if you think it is possible for additional lines to be opened at your school.
Lisa: I think the most important thing is getting with your administration and finding out what their needs are, and what they are scheduling. This way you’d be a part of the solution rather than the problem.
We have 3 lunch blocks, but recently my principal mentioned that we’ll soon be increasing enrollment by 300 students. I simply said, “If there is any way that I can get into the school store in the courtyard that I would be able to open additional lines. In the first year in opened one additional line and that took the pressure off of the five /six lines we had. This year we opened a second line and we’re already thinking about where we could open the next line. I also mentioned to my director that we need a small, rolling kiosk on the other side of the courtyard because there are a lot of kids stationed there and we need to make the most of our time because it is invaluable to everyone. I realize that they don’t want to come into the lunch line so we have to move a service line to them in order to ensure that they eat and that is very important. Fortunately, administration is giving me the space to do so.
Kern: How many lines do you currently have opened for full service?
Lisa: Right now I have eight and next year I will have nine.
Kern: Nine, is there anything is particular that you plan to do with those lines? Would you have the space and opportunity to do so?
Lisa: Yes I definitely would, and according to future building plans this will be the biggest school in the area as they may build a 9th grade center. That being said, there will be growth for at least 2,000 more students and additional kiosks can be placed anywhere as long as the department makes it available. Luckily, food services is well funded here and every time I open a line, I generate more revenue for the school district. For instance, more kids, more lines, more money. It makes a lot of sense. I currently have more spots that I can open up and I still put a third line in the “outhouse”. I can also use the bookroom when school reopens and all books have been distributed. The principal would be so happy to see the space being used that they’ll say, “If you can make it work, make it work.”
Kern: Definitely! You said that there’s a chance to increase revenue. What do you do on a daily basis and how are you doing with a la carte sales, etc.?
Lisa: Lunches, we serve anywhere between one hundred and fifty and one hundred and ninety in actual school lunch. Al a carte sales run anywhere between thirty-two to thirty-five hundred a day.
Kern: Yes, you’re really aggressive and you’re doing a really great job with that. On my visit, I noticed that you don’t only serve during the lunch period. When else do you serve?
Lisa: My registers and my staff will serve anytime. I recall at the beginning of the school year the principal said, “Why are the kids stopping in and just picking up food? Why are you letting this happen?” I replied, “The routine is that the kids come in here and I say no. They go to their class and tell their teacher that they have a stomach ache or whatever. They end up going to the nurse and the nurse tells them that they’re hungry. The nurse then sends them down to me to feed.” I’m stopping the middleman. They don’t miss any class, they run in, they grab a snack. We tell them, “Eat the food before you get to the class.” With these high schoolers, a couple of bites while walking through the courtyard and they’re done.
Kern: They’re done.
Lisa: I feel the teacher’s job is to teach, my job is to feed and if they tell me they’re hungry, I’m feeding them. So it’s a good marriage (so to speak) here.
Kern: Definitely! What keeps you motivated to meet the FNS goals?
Lisa: What keeps me motivated is the fact that if I do come up with ideas, my food service administrators are all for it. It’s never a downer. It’s always, “That’s a great idea. Do you think you could do it?” and “How would you do it?” Once I explain how I would do it, if they feel it’s feasible… it’s all systems go. As things change, we all have to change. This is everyday life. Some people are resistant to change.I don’t really understand why because then you’re stuck. Why wouldn’t we want something new? We all want something new every day.
Kern: What could you share with a manager or director about the most creative strategy that you use to increase student participation?
Lisa: It’s just basically switching it up, getting to know what your kids want and being creative with the food. I try to think about what I’d like to eat and how we can make it happen within the guidelines. I know when you were here I gave you that little chicken parmesan. I’m Italian, I like Italian food. The way it worked for me is, you know the recipe was a little different when she (the director) sent it out to us. We were to cook the chicken in the oven, and I just felt that it was the type of thing that would make it too dry. So we tried it according to the recipe, cooking by poaching and the chicken fell apart. When the kids dig in, it would shred instead of maintain the shape of a whole piece of chicken. You have to think ahead…how we’d want the dish to be served as we have a lot of restrictions. If we were serving frapuccino coffees, and then we switched it up and said, “Hey, buy an ice cream cup and you can make floats.” You know the kids love that stuff. They love anything new. If we take a flat item and instead of folding it, and we keep it open, students ask, “Hey, what’s that?” to them, it’s a new item. It’s the way we market it… If a kid is buying school lunch and they’re missing a few components, but they have the vegetable and the entree we’ll say, “Hey, did you know you can get a free milk with this?” By saying the word “free”, we engage them. They’re excited, they’re happy and they get the rest of the components. So it works!
Kern: Awesome, awesome! So what’s a piece of advice would you give to first year managers?
Lisa: My advice would be, don’t micromanage. Let people think and be nice to everybody. Treat people how you want to be treated. If you treat them lousy, they’re going to treat you lousy. That’s my biggie.
Kern: One thing I noticed that was really unique about your school, is the dress code that you have. Can you tell us a little about that?
Lisa: Yes, I definitely do not like uniforms. We’re in a high school where kids dress a certain way. They wouldn’t respond to everybody dressed in those (I think they’re ugly) food service outfits. Hence, we wear team outfits. Sometimes the track team will give us t-shirts, the PTO will give us shirts, or we purchase them from the local stores. My girls wear their preference of jeans, of course within dress code. Nothing vulgar, but they look cool.
I believe when your staff looks a certain way and acts a certain way, you get a response. I’ll have all registers going, 8 lines, and every single lunch person has a following of kids that wants a few minutes of their time for orders. They’ll want to know where they are (if they don’t see them that day) to tell them about their day. It helps with everything. You can chat about your hat if you’re representing Yankees that day, or even during basketball season. They know what teams you’re into and it’s nice.
Kern: Casual is cool then?
Lisa: Casual is cool, definitely, definitely.
Kern: Definitely, definitely! I always like to end on a great note, something that’s kind of funny. Tell me, what is one interesting fact about yourself that others may not know?
Lisa: Interesting fact that’s funny? Oh, I don’t know about funny…
Kern: Yeah, that’s funny or just an interesting fact, anything you’d like to share with the folks out here.
Lisa: I initially went to school for baking and pastry. I went to school at the culinary institute and that’s why I opened my bakery. I wanted to be in a type of late night restaurant business because I like early morning, but I really didn’t think I’d like 3 o’clock in the morning. However, I did like that and I was always happy because when you bake for people, it’s a happy occasion. That’s my thing, other than pug rescue.
Kern: Pug rescue, I love that, I love that. We got to get our dogs together some time for a play-date.
Lisa: That’s it, that’s it.
Kern: Well Lisa, I want to thank you. This is Lisa Marino, she’s at Creekside High school at St. John’s County, Florida. We want to thank you for your time today and we wish you the best of success. I hope you enjoy your summer and get some well-needed and deserved rest.
Lisa: Thank you so much, I really appreciate that Kern.
Kern: Alrighty, thank you.
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