Reser's Foodservice in the news

The power of sides, June 2015

The power of sides

FoodService Director
June 29th, 2015

Make no mistake: Side items have star power on today’s menus. As consumers continue to move away from three-squares-per-day dining, items such as sides, appetizers and small plates—often treated as an afterthought by operators—are becoming a critical point of focus. In fact, 33 percent of consumers said they prefer to create their own meals from sides and small plates rather than order an entree, according to a recent report from Chicago-based research firm Technomic.

This shift in dining style can be attributed in part to consumers’ quest for flavor. “Millennials and Gen Zs are looking for newness—flavors that are about them and not about their parents,” says Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic. He notes that side dishes are a great vehicle for flavor experimentation, since students—and operators—can try new flavors without committing to a full entree.

Thus, offering unique, flavor-forward side dishes can be a point of differentiation for foodservice directors, and it can be a way to monitor portions and give students more control over their meals—a trend that’s continuing to grow.

Authenticity on the run

To appeal to today’s college students, foodservice has to cater to eating on-the-go. “Our students are tech savvy; they’re eating with one hand while the other is using their phones,” says Scott Anderson, interim director and chef at Shepherd University Dining Services in Shepherdstown, W.Va. “I’ve had to create smaller, unique serving sizes for them; they want to graze.”

And the food better be natural and real, Anderson adds. “Mexican better taste like Mexican; homemade potato salad better be authentic,” he says. “If I’m serving pulled pork BBQ, there must be coleslaw.”

For that reason, Anderson relies on Reser’s Foodservice for potato salads and coleslaws. “Reser’s is right in the middle—not super tangy or rich, not bland or too chopped up,” he says. “It goes with everything.”

Making it personal

Customization and flavor options also matter to today’s college students. “These students are used to dining out as a normal course of daily life,” says Nancy Monteer, associate director of campus dining at the University of Missouri. “They expect more when they come to college; they’re more adventurous and sophisticated in their tastes.” Offering customizable dining options can be a way for operators to generate excitement and compete with build-your-own fast-casual concepts.

To that end, Anderson offers customizable options that enable diners to turn a side dish into a main meal. “Sides are very important,” he explains. “They can become the center of the plate.” A student might take potato salad, add cheese, bacon or BBQ sauce as well as some pickles, relish or coleslaw, says Anderson. “It becomes a unique little dish that they make their way.”

Keep it healthy, but offer indulgence

The students at University of Missouri enjoy roasted vegetables as a side dish, says Monteer. Roasting rather than steaming brings out the flavors, and vegetable consumption has increased as a result, she says. For example, her staff menus a mix of red onion, cauliflower, eggplant, Brussels sprouts, ginger and caraway, all roasted with olive oil. “It’s very popular,” she says.

Additionally, the school’s self-serve salad bar is stocked with vegetables and assorted mix-ins, including Reser’s oil-and-vinegar coleslaw and German potato salad. The sides add substance to the available options and offer flexible portion sizes, says Monteer.

However, although health and wellness continues to affect college & university dining, students also want the comforts of natural, home-style foods. Offering tasty side dishes allows students to indulge without overdoing it, explains Monteer.

University of Missouri students “love their mac and cheese,” says Monteer. “We have one facility that has it on the menu every day,” she says. Students can also add in a flavor boost with add-ins such as chipotle or bacon.

Making sides work for you

Tristano suggests testing new side dishes that offer a broad range of flavors, including sweet, spicy and tangy. “These are flavor profiles that really appeal to the younger generation,” he says.

For more tips and insights on the power that side items can add to your menu, visit Reser’s Foodservice here.

3 tips for throwing an authentic barbecue, July 2015

3 tips for throwing an authentic barbecue

FoodService Director
July 2015

Barbecue continues to have broad appeal with diners, and chefs consider it to be a top perennial favorite, according to the National Restaurant Association’s What’s Hot 2015 Culinary Forecast.

Many operators have already seen the value in this trend, which is why special events and annual traditions featuring barbecue are trending in foodservice. The University of Missouri, in Columbia, Mo., holds a welcome picnic each fall for freshmen, serving 550 pounds of smoked pulled pork in one hour.

Likewise, Davidson College, in Davidson, N.C., hosted a reunion weekend for 1,500 alumni in June that included barbecued chicken. The campus also has three dining outlets that serves barbecue once a week rotating between pork, beef and chicken. And Shepherd University, in Shepherdstown, W.Va., serves pulled pork with fresh, vinegar-based coleslaw at its Underpass Café, with plans next semester to offer boneless ribs.

For operators, these types of events provide a unique opportunity—and also a unique challenge. Running a successful barbecue event is largely a matter of common sense, planning and organization, and done right, it could become a signature event or item for your operation for years to come.

Make a plan

Before you decide to become a pitmaster, it’s important to understand that barbecuing is a significant undertaking that requires time to cook.

First, research which style of barbecue to serve, such as Kansas, Memphis, Texas or Carolina. Visit local restaurants and talk with chefs to get ideas or survey students as to what they’d like—because authenticity is key. “If barbecue is a popular item in the state you operate, you need to represent that region with what’s preferred,” says Dee Phillips, director of dining services at Davidson College.

Also, make sure you have enough prep time. With cooking temperatures between 200°F and 250°F and up to 16 hours or more of cooking, patience is key: Slow cooking imparts flavor and tenderness to tougher cuts of meat that can’t be achieved by high-temperature grilling. “For the fall welcome picnic, our cooks start smoking pork butt at 3:00 am,” says Nancy Monteer, associate director of campus dining at University of Missouri.


No longer is there a need for a pit or a smoker to achieve the smoked flavor that comes from cooking over an open flame. “What really scares people about barbecue is the cooking equipment,” says Phillips, whose kitchen doesn’t possess a smoker, but instead uses a combi oven to achieve the same end result.

At University of Missouri, however, the staff prefers to use an industry smoker, which requires them to consider the type of wood used to smoke as well as having someone tend the smoker.

Then comes training and knowing how long to leave meat smoking. Certain cuts of meat will take a lot of smoke, such as pork butt or brisket, but ribs, not so much. “It’s best to have someone trained in barbecuing so the smoke can permeate the protein properly,” says Scott Anderson, assistant food service director and executive chef at Shepherd University.

Authentic side dishes

While smoked and sauced meats star at barbecue events, it wouldn’t feel complete without sides. Sides need to be built and flavor imparted the same way meat is slow cooked, because as with the meat, authenticity is important. “Whatever you put forth, ensure it’s the quality and consistency your guests prefer and there’s the right amount to feed everyone,” says Anderson.

Classic barbecue sides include potato and macaroni salads, baked beans, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese and, of course, coleslaw.  Reser’s Foodservice has recognized the rise of barbecue and offers all of these, including many regional flavor varieties, as well as desserts and fruit salads. “The industry has taken notice that barbecue is a popular item and has developed packaged items that make serving barbecue very easy,” Phillips says.

The last item needed to complete a good barbecue is cold drinks. Iced tea, sweet tea, lemonade are ideal choices, with the drink station—especially for large events—set up on the opposite side of the serving line, so bottlenecks don’t occur.

For more menu ideas for your next barbecue event, visit Reser’s Foodservice here.

Fresh flavor—without the labor cost, Sept. 2015

Fresh flavor—without the labor cost

FoodService Director
September 2015

Scheduling the labor necessary for producing tasty and nutritious food for patients, staff and the public is a daily challenge in the healthcare segment.

To help accomplish more without exceeding labor budgets, some operators have found success with prepared foods that save time and prep work. Salads and side dishes that are easily customized with fresh ingredients can be especially useful across all menu parts.

At Park Ridge Health, a 103-bed hospital in Hendersonville, N.C., and a part of the Adventist Health System, Executive Chef Robin Pharris supplements scratch cooking with high-quality prepared salads. The latter are building blocks of menus with high culinary standards and local produce.

“We don’t serve your typical cafeteria-type fare here,” says Pharris. “We try to buy as much fresh, local product as we can get. And we take a lot of pride in the presentation of our food. We have a hot line, not a food court like other hospitals have.”

Park Ridge purchases peppers, tomatoes and other seasonal vegetables from a local company that follows a HACCP food-safety plan, something that’s vitally important for the well-being of patients with compromised immune systems, according to Pharris. In addition to using this produce in from-scratch menu items, she also regularly uses it to give a fresh twist to speed-scratch dishes based on prepared salads, such as Reser’s Foodservice pasta salad.

“We add diced fresh peppers, chives and scallions, feta cheese and black olives to that to make it into something new,” says Pharris. “This saves on labor, but it is important that it is a good product to begin with.”

Pharris also puts a personal stamp on Reser’s Foodservice coleslaw. She tweaks it into barbecue-flavored slaw—sans pork, of course, in keeping with Adventist dietary practices. “We don’t serve any pork or shellfish here, so I have to be really creative and inventive to keep food fresh and different all the time,” says Pharris.

She also customizes Reser’s Foodservice macaroni salad and red-skin potato salad. “Everybody likes our salads, and they can’t believe we don’t make them all the way from scratch,” says Pharris. “For me, the main thing is that I am still able to be creative and offer fresh, quality items while working with partially pre-made products. Cooking the pasta and all that is time consuming; what I get to do is just the fun part.”

Using prepared foods such as these has also helped Pharris optimize the efforts of a 33-person kitchen team that she calls a well-oiled machine. “We used to chop everything, prep everything, make everything from scratch here,” says Pharris. “My budget was just out of control. We’ve reduced it probably by about $400,000 by using more convenience items.”

High food quality and convenience are also top-of-mind for London Health Sciences Centre in London, Ontario, Canada, a 1,049-bed hospital serving about 850 patient meals three times per day. The hospital relies on Reser’s Foodservice mashed potatoes and mashed sweet potatoes.

“We were using a competitor’s potatoes previously,” says Frances Best, nutrition assistant at London. “It was the taste that got us to switch. They are just like homemade. The mashed potatoes have little lumps like the way you mash them at home. That’s how people know they’re not instant.”

Best explains that London, like many hospitals in the province, has replaced full-scale kitchens and cooks with a labor-saving, cold-plating system. For example, Reser’s Foodservice refrigerated potatoes are transferred to pans on the tray line and scooped cold onto the plates. The trays are heated in the oven for 38 minutes prior to delivery to patients.

The fact that Reser’s Foodservice products are refrigerated, not frozen, saves additional time and labor on the tray line.

“We were previously using a frozen product that we had to thaw,” says Best. “It’s so much nicer to have them ready to use and not to need to pull them out of the freezer and temper them.”

For more tips on how to use convenient prepared salads on your menu, visit Reser’s Foodservice here.

Sides in the Spotlight, Nov. 2015

Sides in the Spotlight

Restaurant Business
November 2015

Once a culinary afterthought, the left side of the menu, where side items often fall, is uniquely positioned to cater to the continued shift in consumers’ dining behavior toward personalized, memorable occasions that allow for sharing and connecting with others over food.

“We’re seeing the evolution toward grazing throughout the day rather than just eating square meals,” says Deanna Jordan, senior research analyst at Chicago researcher Technomic. “So with how sides can be positioned, these options can appeal for the types of occasions and menus that cater to these dining preferences, such as snacking, happy hours and bar menus.”

A growing force

Starches, such as potatoes and grains, are the largest contributors to the growth of sides, as dishes featuring tater tots, handmade fries and breakfast potatoes are showing up across all dayparts. Operators also are innovating with grains such as quinoa for a healthy spin, according to menu research firm Datassential.

More produce-centric sides are appearing on menus as well, which both appeals to health-conscious eaters and gives operators an easy way to leverage seasonal items—something that a growing number of consumers look for. “Sides associated with terms such as gluten free, local, all natural and organic are gaining traction, too,” says Jana Mann, senior director at Datassential.

An expanded role

Casual-dining concept Hash House a Go Go, with 10 U.S. locations, uses sides to enhance entrees in both flavor profile and consistency. “If you can add a side that complements the entree, adds to its presentation and adds value, then you don’t have to merchandise individual sides as much,” explains Jim Rees, COO and partner.

One popular side, featuring crispy potatoes and corned beef hash, hits all of those notes. The restaurant worked with Reser’s Foodservice to develop a ready-to-cook fresh potato diced with a special blade that creates cuts of varied sizes and shapes. This approach provides an attractive, hand-cut look.

“It’s a fresh product that allows us to execute without any variation throughout our 10 restaurants, and it’s invisible to the guest that it was partially prepared,” says Rees. The potatoes are used in all hash items and egg scrambles, as well as a main item on the chain’s brunch menu.

Mazzio’s Italian Eatery, with locations in 10 states, is well known for its handmade pizzas—but it’s their salad bar that has gained a big following. Because of the salad bar’s consistent, fresh offerings, the salad bar often receives higher ratings than its pizzas.

“Using prepared products on the salad bar is a winning proposition,” says Archie Dixon, manager for supply chain management. “Not only does it save labor time in the kitchen, but it allows for a consistent product based on specification to be menued at all locations.”

Mazzio’s features six Reser’s products on its salad bar: A mustard potato salad, a macaroni salad, an Italian ziti pasta salad and three desserts. “For our guests to give the salad bar such high marks is a result of offering side items that are fresh, high quality and flavorful, which is what Reser’s delivers on a consistent basis,” Dixon says.

Mazzio’s offers the salad bar as a stand-alone item because many people want to make a meal from it rather than order pizza. “Having the extra variety of prepared salads and desserts, as well as vegetables, provides enough ingredients to create a satisfying meal from start to finish,” explains Dixon. “A side dish should not be pigeon holed into an al a carte menu presentation.”

Quick facts

  • 53% of consumers overall order sides on all or most restaurant visits—this has held steady since 2013.
  • Although 43% of consumers express interest in larger portioned, shareable sides, most sides are still intended for individual consumption.
  • Cravings and curiosity are strong drivers of side purchases—46% order sides because they’re craving them and 40% because they want to try a particular side.
  • Better value and pricing could encourage side purchases—40% say better value for sides could encourage them to purchase sides more frequently and 36% say the same regarding better variety.
  • Operators can pique consumer interest with new, unique and ethnic sides.
  • 46% of consumers would like restaurants to offer more sides with new/unique flavors or ingredients


source: Technomic