Let them eat tendys: From kitchen to counter in the school cafeteria


Kate Beckler and Naomi Yaeger

The votes are in: the student body rejected Tendy Tuesdays in a Record referendum (read: poll with 274 responses). The poultry purists lost by a slim 2% margin — 48.5% cast their ballots for the school staple, 51.5% against.

Every day, over 1,800 students, faculty, and staff choose from an array of lunch options from the Upper Division (UD) and the Middle Division (MD) cafeteria all thanks to FLIK Independent School Dining (FISD), a food management company.

The cafeteria features ten food stations: grill, hearth (pizza and similar foods), entrée, specialty (pasta), salad, grain bowls, deli, beverage, and last, but certainly not least, the “nibbles” or fried foods station. Those nibbles and every other option are covered by a flat fee paid at the start of the year. Students feeling peckish can purchase other items outside lunch hours — there is a breakfast station during A and B periods, a bakery station, ice cream bar, and caffeinated or sugary beverages

The school’s partnership with FLIK began during the 1996-97 school year, according to a Record article (Volume 94, Issue 2). Before the school partnered with FISD, the cafeteria was run by the school administration. With FLIK, the school could purchase food and supplies from markets for 20% less than before. While the kitchen staff remained the same, they began to receive their salaries and benefits from FLIK.

According to its website, FISD is part of the FLIK Hospitality Group, founded in 1971 by Rudiger and Julie Flik to provide food services. In 1995, the company was purchased by Compass Group, the largest food company in the world, and incorporated into its North America Division. FLIK’s many branches, including FISD, serve organizations across 35 American states including airport lounges, conference centers, sports stadiums, and, of course, schools.

The school purchases its food from FLIK’s ordering guide of pre-approved vendors, Senior Director of Dining Service Brenda Cohn said. “Everything on that guide has met the standards set forth by the company,” she said. 

To ensure that all the ingredients arriving in the cafeteria are high quality, FLIK monitors the vendors that the school purchases from, Cohn said. “If you say that you are getting [the school’s] spinach from a farm in New Jersey, they will physically go there to ensure that this is true and that the farm is up to FLIK’s sanitation standards.”

Typically, Cohn approves the menus for the school’s UD and MD, Lower Division (LD), and Nursery Division cafeterias a month before they are served. “I design the menus with the chefs, or the chefs design the menus and then I review them, and if need be, tweak them,” she said.

The MD and UD cafeteria is split between student and faculty or staff sections. The staff cafeteria has the same menu as the student section, except for the grill and the fried station, with the addition of a soda fountain.

When creating the menus, the chefs follow FLIK’s standards, which abide by New York state regulations, Cohn said. “There must be at least a protein, a vegetable, and a starch every day,” she said. The cafeteria alternates between serving carbs and grains and between different proteins like chicken, pork, and tofu in order to create variety in the options each week.

Physics Teacher George Epstein likes to vary what he eats from day to day, he said. “I like to eat across the food pyramid,” he said. He occasionally goes for something less healthy if  the dish is worth it. “Whenever I see the mac and cheese or the frank and beans, I walk into the cafeteria and go ‘alright, it’s a good day,’” Epstein said.

Sometimes, Cohn expects a menu to be unpopular but it ends up becoming a hit, she said. One example of this was a few years ago, when Chef Adam Cohn served a halal spread, with lamb, in the UD, she said. “When it was out on the counter, I looked at it and I said ‘who’s eating this? Students aren’t going to like this.’ But he kept insisting ‘wait and see, they’re going to love this.’ And he was right,” Cohn said. “Students were coming into my office saying ‘Best. Meal. Ever,’ and now, I’m going to [put it on the menu] again.”

On the other hand, sometimes a meal that the dining staff expects to be popular ends up being a flop, Cohn said. “At the Lower School, we tried chili. We had vegetable chili, we had beef chili, kids only ate rice,” she said. “Now we know, don’t serve them chili.” For these reasons, the cafeteria staff are always open to suggestions and comments from students on meals they enjoyed and other meals they would like to eat, Cohn said.

One way students can give this feedback is through a form titled “Menu Feedback,” posted on the Student Life website, under the “Community Council” subpage. Students can use the form to submit feedback on a meal, request a new item to appear on the menu more often, or make other suggestions about cafeteria options. The responses to this form are given to the FLIK staff for consideration.

Many other private schools around New York City also use FLIK, including Trinity, Columbia, Dalton, Rodeph Sholom School (RSS), and Hackley. Their menus differ depending on each school’s unique student body. For example, RSS, a Jewish school, has bagels with cream cheese or sunbutter every day. Because their cafeteria keeps kosher, lunches at the school alternate between meat days, when dairy isn’t served, and dairy days, when meat isn’t served.

Henry Greenhut (11), who switched schools in ninth grade from the Cathedral School, enjoys Horace Mann’s level of cafeteria service, he said. “Coming from a different middle school, I am appreciative of all the options that the cafeteria has,” Greenhut said. 

As prices fluctuate, Cohn and the cafeteria staff reevaluate the menu to be as economical as possible, she said. “We try to manage the lunch program as best as possible with inflation being the way it is right now,” she said. “We do our best to watch the market, and when prices come down, we grab what we can and bring it in for you.”

Another factor behind some of the changes in the cafeteria menu was the decision by the school to charge everyone a set price at the start of the year for all lunches that year, instead of charging students separately for each dish they purchased, Cohn said. “For example, we used to sell sushi,” she said. “When it became all inclusive, sushi was not on the table for giving out to students.”

One dish that has been impacted by the all inclusive format is the fish offerings the cafeteria has, Cohn said. “Fish is triple in price at this point,” she said. As a result, the cafeteria has served less fish this year than in years prior, Cohn said. However, fish has not been eliminated from the school menu — just last Friday, the cafeteria served blackened tilapia.

Juliet Burgess (11) has noticed some changes to the menu post-Covid, she said. “There’s some foods that we used to have that we just never have anymore,” she said. “We used to have burritos and tacos, and I really liked that.”

On the faculty side, however, Epstein hasn’t noticed any significant changes in the menu since the start of the pandemic. “Everything that stuck with me as something I would want, is something that we have access to,” he said.