Shannon Soloman has quite the resume.
She started at Yum! Brands, transitioned to managing restaurant kitchens, and then found a permanent home in school nutrition 13 years ago. As the Director of Nutrition Services of Aurora Public Schools, Soloman leads an “A-Team” that serves delicious, nutritious food with exceptional service to over 40,000 students every day.
Needless to say,Soloman has a pretty unique set of experiences that she continues to apply to her role. But there is one common denominator: she is a creative problem solver who treats her food service program as a business.
Marlon Gordon, CEO of NxtGen Network, and I had the pleasure of spending some time with her in Aurora, and here’s what Soloman’s advice was for finding additional resources during difficult conditions.
Although the culture and pace may be different, the restaurant industry has a lot of similarities with child nutrition. Soloman has had tremendous success finding new employees who are looking for a change from restaurants.
Deliver your program’s mission statement to see if it aligns with the applicants. This way, you truly understand their needs and can assess if they will be successful under the current culture. Also, it’s important to be authentic and communicate effectively. For example, the hourly rate in child nutrition is higher than food service, but it may not be the 50 weeks they are accustomed to.
Under Soloman’s guidance, Aurora’s food service program created a few year-round positions to include summers. This helps maintain consistency within the program and helps the team prep for the start of the school year.
Another great tip is to consider a second shift to help offset the heavy workload. Soloman created a few Assistant Manager positions at each of her high schools for a shift from 10 am – 6 pm.
A great way to give back to your community is to open roles for high school students. They often get out of school at 3:30 pm. Even if it’s just one day a week, they can help with simple items like prepping the fruit. Soloman picked up this tactic from the restaurant industry, and is currently working with local high school and college students to help fill her open positions.
With so much change and regulation in school nutrition, we need to look outside of our industry to learn, adapt and succeed. The complexities of an unknown industry can be intimidating, but it’s important to stay hyper-focused on serving our students.
We’re all in this together. As Soloman told us, “Let’s take it one project, one focus at a time.”
Listen to the rest of the LINQ’D UP podcast to learn more tips around combating the national school nutrition staffing crisis, motivating your food service team, and building relationships with key stakeholders.
Check out our collection of resources loaded with advice for managing your school nutrition program through the current food service challenges.
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