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Spotlight: Food Services Director Ryan McElhaney

Mar 1, 2017

The “Spotlight” series offers a glimpse into the lives of those who work behind the scenes to provide an enriching experience for Flagler College students. Individuals featured in the series will be included in the bi-weekly faculty and staff newsletter.

When you’re in charge of serving up 2,000 meals a day, in the words of Food Services Director Ryan McElhaney, “you’re only as successful as the people you surround yourself with.” Those people — approximately 115 — help the director run one of the largest daily operations on campus. McElhaney typically spends his day checking on all food service operations, from the Dining Hall, Bistro and catering events, to training and coaching his team and responding to emails.


A picture of Ryan McElhaney at his desk.

"I manage all food on campus. It could be from a small lunch for the president to a plated meal for 300. Right now one of the projects we’re planning is a 1,000-square foot convenience store for the new dorms. We’re looking to provide the convenience factor for students living in FEC because they’re a little disconnected from rest of campus. We want to provide campus feel over there and provide place to grab a bite to eat, sit down with a friend and socialize. Basically if you were to take a CVS and shrink it down, that’s what it will be."


A picture of Ryan McElhaney and Bianca Dawson.

"I spend most of lunch on the floor with my staff working. The hospitality industry is very hands-on. If you’re not in there, in the trenches with your staff, you’ll kind of lose touch with what’s going on pretty quickly. I always come out to look at the visual presentation. I’m a big believer that perception is reality. When you look at something you eat it with your eyes first. After lunch, it’s back to emails, prepping for any catering events we may have for that evening, and then getting dinner set up."


A picture of Ryan McElhaney in a kitchen.

"All of our culinary equipment is down the center of the kitchen. It all requires ventilation down the middle. One of our biggest challenges is not having ventilation out front to have the culinary equipment there. We have to find recipes that can be executed with what we have. We can’t cook out front for a lot of things. Here in the kitchen, we separate the vegetarian prep on one side from the meats, which are prepped in their own area to avoid contamination. We have color-coordinated cutting boards, knives to keep everything organized. It’s a process."


A picture of Ryan McElhaney.

"We start menu planning about two months before the semester begins. We do a four-week cycle menu. We make changes based on feedback. If a recipe was successful, we keep it. If not, we change it.  I try to have lots of open channels of feedback. We have the text line and online survey system. I also try to meet with students once a month, so I can constantly be hearing what they’re saying. If it’s something that can be done quickly, that’s easy. If they want more vegetarian options, I have to meet with our executive chef and service manager. We take all the feedback and do our best to constantly improve the program. These charts are where my staff get all their menus and nutritional information, and we can also use them for tracking purposes, for learning how much of each menu item we serve every day. We try to minimize our waste as best we can."


Ryan McElhaney, Food Services Director, in Dining Hall

"I really like working in the campus environment because every day is different. Also, working in higher education is one of best environments you can work in because you have college students experiencing one of most exciting times of their lives, and you have educators inspired to work with those people. To have those as your clientele really makes my job easier. I enjoy working with students — they’re energetic and excited about life and have a positive attitude. We try to do whatever we can to bend over backwards to get those students whatever they need from a dining perspective."

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