Gone are the days of painstaking pen-and-paper menu planning. Top contract dining provider, Merriwether Godsey, demonstrates how a centralized recipe hub can dramatically enhance a chef's ability to plan their menu cycles – right down to the smallest details. Data from the recipe hub informs the cycle planning process to get chefs back into the kitchen quicker.
Join Cate Smith and Derek Cabronneau from Merriwether Godsey and Galley’s Jason Gunn for an educational discussion about what it takes to manage a menu cycle all the way down to recipe planning, allergen and nutritional considerations, and food costing.
Meet Meriwether Godsey
Meriwether Godsey has been an established champion in the contract dining space since 1985, offering services that range from serving dignitaries to managing student dining and providing meals for retirees. They specialize in scratch cooking, locally-sourced ingredients, and unique menus to satisfy their diverse communities.
Their focus is on the role of food in people's lives and the identity of each client. Meriwether Godsey uses great food to establish connections between clients and customers, as well as between employees and the farmers they collaborate with – it's all about the story of the people behind the food:
“At the heart is love, food, people, and serving others, and people are at the center of that…All that translates into what you eat on the plate because you get that heart and that love of what people are doing down to what's being served in the dining rooms. As well as a real focus on preparing fresh, scratch food.”
Since this assembly of services requires significant preparation and precise execution, we knew this conversation with Meriwether Godsey’s Director of Culinary & Brand, Cate Smith, and Chief Technology and Marketing Officer, Derek Cabronneau, would be invaluable to understanding tracking menu cycles on a larger scale.
Key Takeaways from the Webinar
Cate and Derek were gracious enough to share copious insights about how Meriwether Godsey uses Galley to track menu cycles at the commercial level. We encourage you to watch the webinar to hear the full conversation, but if you’re looking for a high-level overview, we summarized highlights from our conversation with them below.
Menu cycle planning helps operators uphold brand integrity and improve recipe scalability.
It’s only fitting to start by answering two fundamental questions: 1) What is a menu cycle? 2) How does this planning framework benefit foodservice operators?
At its core, a menu cycle comprises various menus that repeat at a specific interval, usually four- or five-week cycles. Cate says that Meriwether Godsey usually operates on 13 four-week periods (52 weeks altogether).
“The cycle itself is great because it actually gives time back to operators, so it allows at a corporate level for us to create a framework around that, and in the general cycle, the menu is literally a series of menus that repeat after a specific amount of time.”
Cate shares that the real challenge lies in the repetitive nature of menu cycles – it can be tricky to keep things fresh, exciting, and seasonal, all while staying on-trend and on-brand.
She encourages customers to take the base cycle and customize it within Galley to their individual needs and the comfort foods of their community. Meriwether Godsey will also send down specific menus around global themes or holiday celebrations throughout the year.
Menu cycle planning in Galley has helped Cate create a true recipe source of truth and, therefore, consistency across Meriwether Godsey’s accounts:
“Galley provided us that solution of where we could house all of our recipes and then even tie that all the way down to the ingredients that were purchasing from our purveyors so that, again, we have information on nutritionals we can provide specific allergen information all that and use that recipe base to then create our menu cycles.”
For instance, if you order butternut squash soup in one of Meriwether Godsey’s accounts in Richmond, you’ll get the same soup at one in DC. The recipe will stay the same, giving the chefs a roadmap to work off of.
Cate shares that, as a chef, she relied on building recipes and menu cycles on paper. She recalls having shelves upon shelves of alphabetized binders full of recipes needing to be scaled correctly.
However, the manual task of scaling and translating these into the entire menu planning process, from prep to purchasing, became a difficult one to overcome.
Meriwether Godsey has over 10,000 recipes in Galley today, so the scalability and consistency piece would be near-impossible to accomplish on paper. Instead, the central recipe hub helped them simplify the process, eliminating the need to print production sheets and manually scale them for each account.
Tracking food costing data and accurate inventory forecasting is no longer based on a gut feeling.
A critical task for Meriwether Godsey involves calculating per-plate costs and planning how many people that account will feed at that particular time. Since they serve many schools, Derek says adjusting for things like an elementary class being out on a field trip that day can be challenging.
Menu cycling helps them better manage per-plate costs by using pricing data pulled from Galley. Having that available is helpful for their accounts to use as a base for that period. Then, they can tailor that cycle to the comfort foods of their community and see price changes in real-time.
People tend to be poor estimators, and inaccurate estimations can be pretty expensive, particularly in the foodservice industry. Derek says having more actionable historical data from past menu cycles have helped chefs plan more accurate future cycles:
“So we might be preparing half the number of vegan dishes that we're preparing the meat entree, and over time, now there's a record of that by doing the cycle. It's not just sort of a gut feel. We know not only how many we prepared or thought we were going to need but how many we did prepare, and folks are able to get more and more accurate at that estimation over time.”
While planning is key to success, things will inevitably go wrong, and it’s vital to be prepared for that. Derek says that Galley helps their accounts manage any unexpected changes, like if something doesn’t show up on the delivery truck or if there’s a sudden ingredient cost increase:
“But also from a costing standpoint, they might need to make those chain changes if the price of chicken goes up or eggs, as we've seen over the last year going up 84%, right? Maybe they want to make an adjustment there; they can do that through the system.”
No matter what prompted the change, modifying the recipe is easy and quick – new price data will be generated alongside its updated nutritional and allergen information.
A culinary operating system saves time and gets the chefs back in the kitchen quicker.
The adoption of new systems can be difficult for any industry professional. Experienced chefs, in particular, can be a bit stubborn with big egos, but Cate shares that she’s had great success with Galley adoption once she shows them the value it adds from a time standpoint:
“As chefs, most of us would much rather be in the kitchen touching food and working with people than managing paper and shifting that stuff around. It does sound a little daunting, but it really isn't that hard because we're using Galley.”
Galley's recipe management system makes updating and revising your recipes a breeze. You can copy your recipe and replace any necessary ingredients in just a few clicks. This process, which previously took chefs hours on paper or in Excel, now only takes two to three minutes.
Merriwether Godsey also gets an EDI feed that imports all their ingredient information to the vendor level. This information updates daily, so they always have the most accurate data at their fingertips.
Ultimately, this central recipe hub gives time back to chefs since everything is housed in one place. It offers a sense of security that chefs can go into one connected menu hub instead of seven or eight areas to make changes.
And in this same system, Cate explains that chefs can also get all of their production records, recipes, and shopping lists printed out with the push of a button. So they can walk their shelves with this list and see what they still need to buy for the week to make everything.
“A lot of that has taken away some of that arduous paperwork in the kitchen, and you know it's freed up time again for each one of our operators to really work with the folks in the kitchen. It's given our chefs a little bit more freedom even because those basics are taken care of, so when they want to create a new recipe, all they've got to do is test that and send it in.”
Producing pertinent allergen and nutritional details is simple with a central recipe hub.
Cate shares that a team of experts vets all the recipes to ensure they are on-trend and balanced. Registered dietitians do a nutritional review to serve school communities, sometimes adding things like a pack of M&Ms with some apple slices to strike a good balance of nutritional quality and desirability among students.
Parents can use the menu app to review nutritional and allergen information and tell their kids what to grab for lunch that day. The app pulls nutritional data from Galley in real-time, saving hours each week of manually moving nutritional information from one system to another.
Similarly, vendor management is streamlined through the Galley system, which allows the same recipe to be prepared using different vendors based on the account’s area. Labeling is pertinent for grab-and-go items – all ingredients, nutritional information, and allergens can be pulled from the system and printed on a label, along with a best-eaten-by date.
Merriwether Godsey takes allergen information very seriously – it’s recorded on all recipes, production sheets, and reports pulled from Galley. Derek shares that multiple touchpoints share pertinent allergen information, including updated signage at the customer level:
“So there are clings with any sort of allergens listed on those at every station, and because of the fact that we have that live data coming from Galley into our hub system and then going out to our mobile apps, that’s always instantly up-to-date as well.”
Recipes and vendors can also be tailored inside the hub to meet specific account restrictions, such as gluten-free or nut-free. Cate reveals that they can restrict purchasing of products to certain vendors for accounts with allergen restrictions.
Cate stresses the value of having a central recipe hub like Galley to streamline menu planning for any foodservice business. Everything in one place ensures that the products served are of the highest quality, making this hub an invaluable asset for any business, regardless of size.
Honorable Webinar Mentions
Learn More About Using a Central Culinary Operating to Level-Up Your Menu Cycle Planning