Yale Dining buys big

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Photo by Josh Satok.

Last semester, Yale’s dining halls played host to about 87,000 pounds of chicken and 190,000 bananas.

Yale Dining relies on a complex automated system to place massive food orders from a bank of 5,000 ingredients weeks before a dish is due to be served. Menus are in the works for months before they hit dining halls, even as chefs adjust menus in the face of shortages and delivery issues — like those caused by recent snowstorms.

Last semester, Yale ordered nearly 2,500 different ingredients for meals through an automated system.
Last semester, Yale ordered nearly 2,500 different ingredients for meals through an automated system.

Gerry Remer, the assistant director of supply management for Yale Dining who oversees the automated ordering process, said Yale ordered 2,500 different ingredients last semester alone.

But no order can be placed until the menu committee meets to discuss the semester’s food options, said Menu Management Assistant Sandy Migliozzi.

“The menu planning meetings are always very passionate,” Yale Dining Executive Director Rafi Taherian said, as various chefs and dining hall managers deliberate over the dishes they feel work best in their kitchens.

The committee considers many factors when setting menus, from dietary restrictions to the sustainability of the finished dishes. Though Yale Dining plans menus on a six-week rotation, Migliozzi said, individual dishes can appear on multiple menus within that period.

All residential college dining halls follow the same menu, so Yale orders in bulk to accommodate each dining hall, Migliozzi said. Each dining hall manager is responsible for estimating the quantities needed for their dining hall, and requesting the appropriate quantities.

As one of Connecticut’s largest food purchasing powers, Taherian said, Yale can be discerning about the healthfulness and sustainability of the products it purchases from food suppliers.

Remer said that although Yale Dining would like to buy supplies from local, family-owned farms, this is often not feasible because of the large size of Yale’s orders. Yale still tries to order from suppliers within 300 miles of campus, and seeks sustainable and healthful ingredients whenever possible, she said.

Within the residential college dining halls, managers and chefs must also be meticulous about they way they plan their supplies — but their focus is on providing enough food to adequately serve students.

Silliman College’s Stu Comen said each dining hall manager learns the eating patterns of that college, filling out “leftover sheets” that help managers track how much food their patrons actually consume.

Comen said that aside from accommodating fluctuating crowds, cooks must also account for the fact that certain dishes are more popular in some colleges than others. Tofu dishes, he said, are far more popular in some dining halls than others.

Chefs also make minor adjustments to their menus depending on shortages of ingredients or extra leftovers, Comen said. A recent shortage of fresh broccoli and delivery issues due to snow have necessitated adjustments to some menus, Remer said.

Though residential college dining halls receive necessary ingredients just a few days before a meal is slated to be served, Comen said chefs try to make sure they have enough supplies on hand to deal with unexpected crowds or supplier issues. Ingredients as simple as mustard, ketchup or spices cannot be ordered at the last minute for an individual dining hall because of Yale’s bulk buying system.

“If I need something for tomorrow, I’m not going to be able to go get it,” Comen said. “You want to have a bit of backup.” In such cases, chefs use the extra supply to prepare whatever extra dishes they can, he added.

Yale Dining uses approximately 190 distinct recipes each week for all its meals, Remer said.

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