By Amy Baez, Staff Writer, October 2021

Dining at the Castle can be the part of the day students’ most enjoy out of their rigorous academic schedule, as it is a time to relax and relish a delicious lunch. The nourishing meals given thrice a day are provided by FLIK Independent School Dining. Director of Dining Services Matt Burek said, “Since you all have such a tough curriculum and workload, I tell my staff during the 40 minutes the students have their meal they need to be able to forget about the work and enjoy what is in front of them. They should walk out of here satisfied and ready to get back to work.” Burek aims to instill a feeling of comfort in the community, yet FLIK faces numerous challenges in doing so over this eventful year. 

Burek and his team have endured two critical challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic: the labor shortage and price increases relating to supply and demand. The pandemic resulted in more job openings than unemployed workers in the labor market. Lack of labor negatively affects the entire supply chain. 

The warehouse workers and transportation of goods from factories to distribution centers is in short supply, leading to demand exceeding supply and prices rising. Even though price increases are not a rarity in the food industry, Burek said, “I have never worked in a time where both labor and price got affected.” The number one priority entering this year was to have lunch available, so making adjustments, such as menu changes should groceries fail to arrive, was necessary.

The labor shortage has imposed challenges for employers including FLIK. Fortunately, Burek said, “There is some good news. Broadliners [food service distributors who serve many organizations with a wide variety of products] have announced schools, nursing homes, and hospitals cannot be shorted [deprived of supplies], and I have a good team […] I have incentivized them to make referrals.” Shortening occurs when there is no space on delivery trucks, causing orders to not be properly fulfilled. 

Another benefit, as mentioned, was being able to provide incentives to staff. Burek granted bonuses when referrals were made in 2020. Advantageously, employees would refer trustworthy connections to the dining staff should they possess qualities the managing team looked for in an employee. Burek said, “You can teach somebody to sweep the floor or grill a piece of chicken, but it is tough to teach somebody to be a good person.” However, this is a double-edged sword, as these employees can leave for another job paying a few more dollars per hour; all the difference in the current service industry.

“Getting food out and creating menus and trying to make everyone comfortable, that is easy. It is the labor shortage and price increase right now that are challenges,” Burek said. He has resorted to ordering products two weeks in advance, preventing late menu changes, and paying more for food.

Moreover, as school returned to a new “normal” at the start of the year, students focused their attention on the missing snack table and the lack of desserts at the Castle. Where are they, and would students be getting them back?

While the Supplies Store and Snack Bar (commonly known as the “school store”) was closed the previous year, the school brought out a table in the Castle spread with free snacks as a replacement. Unfortunately, the snack table will not be coming back, so spend your money wisely on treats from the school store which now closes at 11 a.m.

As for desserts, the disappearance was first caused by the unpredictability of what was expected from the year. Burek said “This year, I looked at it and said, ‘I do not know what my supply chain is going to be.’ I did not know what my labor was going to look at. I focused on what was important, and that was making sure that all of the choices for the regular lunch meal were abundant and available.”

Healthy decision-making plays a key role in where the deserts have gone for the time being. Burek said, “My role as a chef over 30 years has changed drastically. We are chefs, nutritionists, a little bit of finance, and management on top. The nutritional part has stepped up, and we try to steer you into a direction that might lead you to make subconsciously healthier choices.” When Burek first arrived at 10 Campus Drive ten years ago, desserts were served five days a week. He made the executive decision and removed them from Wednesdays, game days for much of the community, and preferred students to choose a banana over a slice of chocolate cake.

In any case, desserts will slowly be making their return back onto the menu, excluding chocolate milk, which has met its end due to the high amount of high fructose corn syrup. 

Burek, alongside his diligent crew, has provided us with these delicious meals once again, and in return, let us be considerate and try to prevent food waste. As he stated, “If you have a supply chain disruption and the possibility of shortages, taking what you can eat is vital. If you put it on your plate, you eat it.”