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EDITORIAL COMMENT: The Serving Line


March 2012
Military Food Service:
On the Threshold of the Future

Army General Colin Powell, after becoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was said to be so dissatisfied by soldier reaction to the meals, ready to eat available during Operations Desert Shield in 1990 and Desert Storm in 1991 that his response to combat feeding was the succinct order, “fix it.”

By contrast, attitudes over the years have been more positive to the meals available in dining facilities, mess halls and galleys, but the process of improvement is a constant priority.

No doubt that trend will continue into the future. Already there are signs that the military's commitment to improvement is beginning the next phase in redefining the overall dining experience, from expanded menu options to higher-quality and more healthful selections.

Troop feeding is considered as integral to the physical and mental condition of service members as warfighter training and physical fitness.

All services have introduced nutrition initiatives and dietary guidelines designed to educate service members to make smart choices. These initiatives are influencing meal planning, sparking reviews of the process for selecting the products used, as well as revising menus for healthier options.

A greater commitment is being made to measuring customer satisfaction for improving core menus. Going a step beyond traditional menu boards, services are investigating collecting customer satisfaction data electronically in real-time. Better understanding customer likes and dislikes provides an opportunity to improve service.

Services are reassessing the traditional dining hall model. Main serving lines where customers work their way down from a set of entrées to dessert are being supplemented with stations and kiosks featuring additional specialty options.

In a concession to the limited free time and hurried pace of service members, walk-up and drive-through windows are becoming more common-place. In some cases, movement is underway toward bringing together all dining options available on an installation to save time.

All these steps represent the commitment of the services to constantly improve troop feeding. Studies to evaluate utilization and improve usage rates are ongoing, and involve many factors, such as proximity to centers of daily base activity and population. Another goal of these utilization studies is to gain a clear picture of future requirements from design and location to feeding options, such as kiosks, drive-throughs and carryout.

The direction military food service is moving takes it beyond the simple goal of feeding service members toward quality of life, building morale, contributing to fitness and enhancing health.

This, combined with the commitment to improving meals and the over-all dining experience of U.S. service members, is likely to inspire very different attitudes in the future compared with the not so distant past.