Tapping Into Your Resources: Cafeteria Personnel

Experts in the workplace wellness and health promotion field often encourage managers to aggressively integrate themselves throughout organizational departments.

This integration serves two purposes. It creates unique opportunities for the wellness department to influence employees’ quality of life at a systemic level. As interdepartmental relationships grow, the wellness staff will gain access to previously untapped resources.

One natural target of opportunity is on-site snack bars and cafeterias. While enhancing the healthfulness of food options is an obvious goal, serving line customers are particularly receptive to nutrition information. Being able to rely on dining facility personnel to answer simple questions and appropriately refer customers with more complex needs is an invaluable asset to the health promotion manager.

Dining facility personnel underestimate the impact they have on their customers’ health. All you need is to provide a little nurturing, a little education, a few resources and some motivation.

Step One: Overcoming Fear

A seven-month study reported in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association demonstrated that when a comprehensive marketing campaign preceded lowering fat and sodium content in food choices in the Kansas Farm Bureau and Affiliated Service employee cafeteria, no significant differences in sales data were observed. Study authors concluded that “customers in worksite cafeterias may be more willing to tolerate changes in flavor attributes when modified entrees are marketed as ‘healthful’ and nutrition information is available.”

It is important for wellness managers to arm themselves with such studies. Dining facility managers are often concerned that modifying food choices to make them healthier may affect the flavor, and thus, their sales. Work with the dining facility staff to develop a comprehensive marketing campaign. This is important for program success and will go a long way to calm any fears.

Step Two: Training

Evaluate the existing nutrition training of dining facility personnel. Offer to conduct a series of nutrition/healthy eating inservices to address any deficit areas in their education. Provide videotapes and other learning tools that can be used during staff breaks. If the budget allows, offer to bring in a nutritionist/dietitian periodically to advise staff, review menus, etc.

In addition to formal inservices, make a practice of providing frequent nutrition quick tips to the staff (at least weekly, if not daily). The “tips” can be included during staff meetings, in an e-mail, or in the form of a poster or flyer. Besides nutrition and food preparation information, include inservices and tips on where to refer customers for more advanced nutrition counseling or other information.

Step Three: Motivation and Reward

As the inservice training gets underway, initiate an ongoing dining facility staff competition. The purpose of this competition is to reward dining facility personnel who learn key information provided in the inservices and training material.

Periodically, a “planted” customer going through the serving line at mealtime asks a nutrition-related question randomly of a server. The question should be challenging and appropriate to real-world customer questions and nutrition decisions facing the server.

If the dining facility staff member correctly answers the question, a wellness staff member or other designated official (discreetly standing nearby) comes forward, publicly congratulates the server and gives him/her an incentive award or prize.

If the dining facility staff member cannot answer the question, avoid embarrassing the server. The “planted” customer quietly hands him/her a card with the question and correct answer, then moves on through the line without comment.

Step Four: Recognition

Once the dining facility education program has been completed, offer the cafeteria and snack bar personnel the opportunity to take a voluntary nutrition test. If they successfully pass the test, provide them with a designation that sets them above the other line servers as a basic nutrition counselor. Give them a pin and certificate that reflects this title. For instance: “Certified by your Health Promotion Office as a ‘Cafeteria Nutrition Counselor.’” Discuss with the department chief making this certification a factor for pay raises or promotions.

Promote the dining facility staff’s cooperation and new expertise in nutritional counseling to the customers. Encourage employees to visit the cafeteria or snack bar and ask questions.

More Ideas

The following suggestions are pulled from the “5-A-Day Worksite Implementation Guide.” The entire guide can be downloaded from the American Cancer Society’s Web site: http://www.cancer.org/docroot/COM/content/div_OH/COM_11_2x_5ADay.asp?sitearea=COM (Click on “For Your Worksite” once you reach this page). A variety of nutrition and promotion material supporting this program is available free of charge.

Ask the cafeteria to sponsor cooking demonstrations. This can include cleaning, peeling and chopping fruits and vegetables, as well as various cooking techniques (e.g., stir-fry, steaming, microwaving). Provide participants with the opportunity to sample some of the prepared foods. Focus demonstrations on individual skill-building. Provide tip sheets and recipes from the cooking demonstration to reinforce the observed skill.

Cafeteria Labeling Program

Point-of-Purchase Promotion

Frequency Card Program

Offer discounts, such as three-for-two specials, by adding more fruits and vegetables to menu offerings.

Offer fruit and vegetable serving lines or pre-packaged ready-to-go fruits and vegetables.

Post a comparison of caloric and other nutrition information between junk food and fruits and vegetables.

Address: American Dietetic Association, 120 South Riverside Plaza, Suite 2000, Chicago, IL 60606-6995; (800) 877-1600, www.eatright.org.

 The purpose is to influence the consumer at the point of choice. It conveys messages and suggests simple steps that can be taken to increase one’s consumption of healthy food options at a meal eaten in the cafeteria. Some point-of-purchase promotions provide cues that encourage the purchase of fruits and vegetables outside the workplace as well as tips for cooking methods.

Point-of-purchase promotions could include: static cling stickers, floor mats, posters, balloons, flyers, free-standing signs, etc.

Such programs identify foods meeting the 5-A-Day (or other healthy choice) criteria with an identifiable logo and keep the message in front of employees by providing reminders about healthy choices. More importantly, the labeling program will provide a quick and easy way for employees to identify foods that meet 5-A-Day or other nutrition criteria.

– Increase the frequency of healthy food choices by rewarding frequent fruit and vegetable buyers with a free serving of fruit or vegetable after a certain number of servings have been purchased. – –  

Point-of-Purchase Promotion – The purpose is to influence the consumer at the point of choice. It conveys messages and suggests simple steps that can be taken to increase one’s consumption of healthy food options at a meal eaten in the cafeteria. Some point-of-purchase promotions provide cues that encourage the purchase of fruits and vegetables outside the workplace as well as tips for cooking methods. Point-of-purchase promotions could include: static cling stickers, floor mats, posters, balloons, flyers, free-standing signs, etc.

Frequency Card Program – Increase the frequency of healthy food choices by rewarding frequent fruit and vegetable buyers with a free serving of fruit or vegetable after a certain number of servings have been purchased.

Offer discounts, such as three-for-two specials, by adding more fruits and vegetables to menu offerings.

Offer fruit and vegetable serving lines or pre-packaged ready-to-go fruits and vegetables.

Post a comparison of caloric and other nutrition information between junk food and fruits and vegetables.

Address: American Dietetic Association, 120 South Riverside Plaza, Suite 2000, Chicago, IL 60606-6995; (800) 877-1600, www.eatright.org.

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