Chef Irvine, SMA cook up DFAC improvements
Chef Robert Irvine stopped by the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., Aug. 11, 2020, to meet with Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael A. Grinston to discuss ways the Army can improve their food service. (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

WASHINGTON -- Celebrity chef Robert Irvine offered senior leaders a recipe for success Tuesday, as dining facilities across the Army revamp business to meet modernization goals.

The “Restaurant: Impossible” host was joined by Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael A. Grinston during a teleconference with other leaders to chat about ways to feed Soldiers and keep them coming back for more.

Unlike his popular TV show, the chef didn’t dial in to help restaurants struggling to stay afloat. Irvine, who joined the British Royal Navy at age 15, provided insight to help beef up the Army’s dining facilities, or DFACs, and make them every Soldier’s preferred eatery.

Today, at 54, the former British Navy chef has built a career in and out of the kitchen; from starring in multiple cooking shows to using his star power to be a voice for physical and nutritional fitness. He also devotes energy with philanthropic work at the Robert Irvine Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that raises money for veteran advocacy groups.

Revamping DFACs, “is no different than what I do on TV,” the chef said during the call. Bringing troops into the DFAC takes more than a slap of paint and a new sign. It should offer them “30 minutes of escapism” during their workday.

To take on these challenges, Army leaders face a smorgasbord of issues, both big and small. Small pitfalls include issues like adding more protein options at the salad bar, Grinston said, adding larger ones include widespread distribution of credit and debit card machines to curtail Soldier wait times.

“We’re seeing improvements, but we’re not there yet,” Grinston said, because even as upgrades are made, “we need to bring folks into the buildings” and that’s where the real changes begin.

How is this done? Three focus areas come into play, Grinston said, which include marketing, customer service, and customer satisfaction. The leaders strategized a battle plan to accomplish this on the call.

“From a marketing standpoint, what is attractive?” Irvine asked. “What makes an 18-to-24-year-old Soldier -- either male or female -- say, ‘I’m going to the DFAC.’” One idea he floated was giving troops consistency with an established menu, rather than “the laborious task” of creating new menus weekly.

It’s simple enough: “If you give Soldiers what they want, they will eat there,” the chef said. DFACs can accomplish this with great food and service, “and, by the way, it’s not too expensive” for troops, which only helps their satisfaction.

Customer service is also no different than going to any restaurant, Irvine said. Soldiers want to feel comfortable when they are eating. By providing comfort and great food, it can put them in a relaxed headspace during the workday.

This approach “can get more out of them” and improve their quality of work. This is especially important with the Army Combat Fitness Test coming in October, Irvine said. “Food [may be] the missing part” to successful test scores.

Eating right is also a high priority for the Army’s senior enlisted Soldier, who said nutrition is one of the most important choices a Soldier can make.

On multiple occasions, Grinston has reminded troops that eating healthy food is as important -- if not more so -- than physical conditioning.

Educating troops on healthy eating “is a continual process,” Irvine said.

“We want our Soldiers to be fit for their jobs,” Grinston said, who lived in the barracks for seven years as a young Soldier. “I’m passionate about what we provide our Soldiers. The most valuable thing is that we’re learning as we go.”

In the end, modernizing the way the DFAC does business can help modernize the nutritional needs of the Army, he said. By enhancing the nutritional options in the DFAC and delivering them quicker, it will help the cognitive and physical performance of individual Soldiers.

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