Feeding children is the primary responsibility of any school foodservice organization, but most are also called upon to serve adults—from breakfast and lunch meals for teachers and staff to special event catering.
For New York SchoolFood, this is the responsibility of Special Events Coordinator Michael Hutter, who brings a commercial perspective to the position and who formerly worked in high-end B&I for Marriott Management Services and The Wood Co. With Marriott, he managed catering for the board of directors meetings of NYNEX Corp. on Madison Avenue. He also has five-plus years of field operational experience with New York Schools as a school food manager and district supervisor before taking on his current position last year.
Hutter has sought to bring standardization and organization to a department that previously catered events out of almost every kitchen, with varying menus depending on product availability. He also oversees the teacher/staff cafes in schools and the district's a la carte program.
Under Hutter, catering production has been consolidated into 61 designated sites—each with a specially trained catering manager onsite—scattered evenly across the five boroughs of the city. Orders—from a standardized catering menu posted online—are placed with a central dispatch point, which then assigns the event to the closest designated catering kitchen. Once an order is processed and assigned, a confirmation is e-mailed to the school manager at the site and the relevant district supervisor. An invoice is generated three days after the event.
There is a five business day advance notice so that any special products can be ordered and delivered. While the catered food is made mostly from the same products used in student lunches (except for government commodities), the department does purchase some "adult foods" like breaded eggplant and raw chicken breast as well as child-forbidden treats like soda and Danish.
Event sizes vary, from staff lunches for a couple dozen to large official functions involving thousands (small events requiring no hot food are still handled by inhouse school kitchens).
For example, the department caters an annual Operation Santa charity event each holiday season at John F. Kennedy Airport for over 5,000 special needs children.
"Outside catering is a small part of our business, only about five to six percent at present," Hutter says, "but I want to see it grow, just like I want to see everything grow.
"Our goal is to provide services that support the Department of Education's training and development city-wide. And our price structure is very reasonable. In fact, we just had our first price increase in five years."