Keesler food service delivers quality, awards

  • Published
  • By Steve Hoffmann
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
When most of us think of slashing our food budget, we think of ramen noodles or frozen burritos. But when the 81st Force Support Squadron food services does it, you can hardly tell the difference.

According to Maj. John Ponton, 81st Force Support Squadron commander, food services has faced a number of significant challenges over the past year. Not uncommon to much of Keesler was a reduction of the budget. Food services had its budget cut by $1.25 million.

But according to Sam Foster, 81st FSS food services director, how they made their cuts was completely up to them.

"Our fair share was to take our $1.25 million cut," Foster said. "But how we cut costs by that much was truly a C3 cost-cutting initiative. We were allowed to get creative in the ways we were going to make the cuts."

So Foster pulled together representatives from the food services contractor, the 81st Training Group and the quality assurance evaluators and they sat down and brainstormed how they might find ways to reduce costs.

"The simple answer was to close one dining facility -- you've saved the money, you're done," said Foster. "But we needed to stay within the mission of feeding our Airman while still cutting costs."

One way Foster and his team were able to find efficiencies was to cut hours to the Live Oak Dining Facility and expand hours at Azalea and Magnolia Dining Facilities. By doing daily half-hour counts of actual customers using these facilities, they were able to determine that Live Oak's breakfast and dinner hours were being underutilized. So by cutting those hours and letting Azalea and Magnolia absorb those customers, they were able to make significant cuts.

Keeping a close watch on who is eating where and when and how much, both by looking at register reports and working with the 81st TRG to track student populations, food services is able to get a fairly accurate indication of how many meals they'll need to prepare. This greatly reduces the amount of food that gets wasted.

Food services also employs a central preparation kitchen at the Azalea facility which alleviates the need for redundant operations at each of the three facilities.

Also, a new grab-and-go line was introduced to alleviate the morning bottleneck of students rushing to get breakfast before classes. For those who just want something quick and easy, a dedicated line was set up which has greatly increased the efficiency with which meals are being served.

Another point of pride for Keesler's food service operations is how it performed during Hurricane Isaac. It would be enough to say that they simply stayed open during the storm, but that doesn't quite tell the story. The food service contractor struggled to find enough employees willing and able to come to work, but they did it and ended up serving more than 8,000 meals to the entire lodging and student population throughout the storm.

And you might think that with all these challenges, changes and budget cuts that quality control and customer service would be compromised. But, as usual, Keesler's food service operations is in the running to win the John L. Hennesey award for the third year in a row.

"The food service contractor and the four full time QAE's that oversee the contract get the credit for winning these awards," said Foster. "It's all the little things that count -- it's sanitation, it's constantly looking at the checklist, making sure it gets performed well, checking the freezer every hour on the hour, checking food temperatures, keeping logs and checking register reports. Those things are what keeps us winning awards."