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EDITORIAL COMMENT: The Serving Line


MAY 2014
Redefining the Dining Facility

Military food service is picking up on campus-style dining, along with trends popular in national chain fast-food and casual-dining restaurants, to improve utilization by service members and curb costs.

With serving stations, salad bars and other aesthetic modifications replacing the traditional serving line setup, food service is certainly reforming and modernizing to better satisfy service member’s expectations.

But, is the familiar large dining facility at risk of falling into obsolescence? And, more importantly, should it?

The military’s growing emphasis on nutrition and healthy eating makes a strong argument in support of preserving at least the big mess hall/galley format with its high-volume capability to manage daily meals for large numbers of service members efficiently.

A menu of center-of-the-plate hot entrée options served along with assorted side dishes delivers the nutrition that the Joint Culinary Center of Excellence (JCCoE) and military dietitians determine service members need to perform optimally; recover rapidly from stress, illness and injury; and remain healthy and alert for the long term.

Not to mention the training opportunity found in dining facility kitchens by culinary specialists with professional culinary career aspirations who prepare those meals and contribute to morale and mission support.

Then there is the purchasing infrastructure for orders placed through Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support and prime vendors that ensures that a steady, reliable inventory of a long grocery list of supplies is available worldwide, from established military bases to deployed locations.

No doubt the foodservice staffs in dining facilities and galleys, whether ashore or afloat, are working hard to achieve foodservice excellence.

None of the military branches have plans to phase out large dining halls. In fact, the Air Force and the Army are working to achieve higher mess hall utilization by introducing campus-style dining strategies that also incorporate elements associated with national chain fast-food and casual dining.

To promote this transition of the dining facility into more of a culinary destination, the Department of Defense and the services are investing in creating an inviting atmosphere and offering foods popular with young servicemen and women.

The Air Force expects to raise utilization by phasing in the Food Transformation Initiative (FTI), which reconfigures the traditional serving-lineand- tray system with station feeding, including some counters featuring recognized commercial brand names.

Army Center of Excellence Subsistence, Operations Directorate (ACES OD) envisions supplementing traditional dining facilities with expanded mealserving venues and service times, including using kiosks and retail stores, or “G-Stores,” located close to an installation’s dense population areas.

In both the Air Force and ACES OD plans, dining facilities remain the primary location for serving and preparing daily meals. Service members also continue to have a choice of entrées, sides, desserts and beverages, as well as benefit from the opportunity to congregate socially.

Nutritional programs being emphasized in the military are reinforced when service members visit the dining facility through signs and color labels on food choices.

Dining facilities are not obsolete. Instead, the classic archetype is simply being redefined for the modern military and the requirements of contemporary troop feeding.