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Silver Plate Award winner discusses her experiences in the foodservice industry

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This blog series is brought to you by the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA), the leading trade association for the foodservice industry. This series will focus on ways to optimize across the entire supply channel and bring consumers back to foodservice.

Mary Molt is the assistant director of housing and dining services at Kansas State University and was a recipient of a 2012 Silver Plate Award from the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association. Silver Plate Awards are given to professionals recognized for their innovative efforts in the foodservice operations industry. I interviewed Mary about her experiences working within foodservice operations on a campus environment. An edited transcript of that conversation follows.

What has your experience in foodservice been like? What experiences in your career led you to become assistant director of housing and dining services at Kansas State University?

My foodservice career has been wonderful because of the people I have worked with and the experiences I have had. A college campus is so alive with enthusiasm, anticipation, and young and fresh ideas. I can honestly say I have never gone home wishing I were in some other career.

I was given opportunities as a young professional that prepared me for positions with more responsibility and ultimately for the position I am in today. I am grateful for the opportunities and appreciative of every mentor I have had along my career path.

Serving as a National Association of College & University Food Services regional president and serving on many NACUFS committees are experiences that have helped prepare me for my position as the assistant director of housing and dining services. These experiences provided networking occasions and provided the travel opportunities to see many quality foodservice operations throughout the country.

How is working at a university different from other sectors of the foodservice industry?

My passion is and has always been working with students. We are invested in students’ futures, in their lives. We serve to help them meet their goals and live their dreams. Ours is an industry where you can work with students every day of your career.

College and university foodservice is about serving good food to students but is also about being their home away from home. No other sector of the foodservice industry gets to claim credit for the success of their customers. In a college and university living environment, we can.

What has been the greatest challenge in your career? What has been the greatest reward?

From an operational perspective, maintaining high-quality standards in a changing environment has been my biggest challenge. From an educational perspective, my biggest challenge was earning my Ph.D. and having the manuscript for “Food For Fifty” due only a year and a half after I defended. I do not know how I survived.

My biggest reward professionally is seeing the young professionals I work with grow and develop into accomplished administrators. I always want to think that I made a difference in helping them achieve their goals. My greatest reward personally is the relationship I have with my 10 nieces and nephews.

What advice would you give to the foodservice leaders of tomorrow?

Never be satisfied with the status quo. Everything can be improved, no matter how good it is or how bad it is. Our job is to make whatever we are responsible for better today than it was yesterday.

Never close your eyes when you see something that is not right or before long you and your staff lose track of what is right. Continually evaluate yourself against your standards and fix any problem that needs a short-term fix, but more importantly provide a solution that will fix the problem for the long term.

You cannot do anything without a good team. Value the people you work with, and never forget that it is only because of them that you are able to achieve. Undervalue your importance and overvalue theirs. It makes a winning combination.

Learn the skills for exceptional planning and decision-making. You will stand heads above many when you are adept in these two skills.