2012 Silver Plate—Mark Freeman: The Value of Listening

Mark Freeman's listening-based approach has yielded great results at Microsoft.

At Microsoft’s Redmond campus, Freeman is responsible for 43 cafés and Microsoft’s Commons, which houses 14 restaurants and nine retail spaces such as a bank, hair salon and more. During his tenure Freeman was able to reduce costs in American locations by $10 million.

At a Glance: Mark Freeman
•Senior Manager of Global Employee Services
•Microsoft Corporation, Redmond, Wash.
•Years in foodservice: 32
•Years at Microsoft: 7
•Meals per day: 91,000 globally
•Annual sales volume: $140 million globally

Mark Freeman’s operational achievements:

•Under Freeman the operation has achieved a 63% participation rate and has an average check of $5. Customer satisfaction has improved by more than 27% in the last six years.

•One of the major factors contributing to Freeman’s financial success was the introduction of local restaurants to Microsoft’s cafés. “We survey our customers annually and our employees always wanted more variety. So we brought local restaurants to our cafés as stations. We started out with six restaurants and now we’re up to about 30.” Participation in these locations has increased more than 4% during the past four years.

•The idea to bring outside restaurants onto Microsoft’s campus also led to Freeman’s decision to do the same in the campus Commons building. Opened three years ago, Freeman says the overall goal of the Commons was to make the employees more productive. “Through surveys we determined [employees] were going to lunch but also to the post office or bank. [So we] brought those services into the Commons. Employees can now take care of the majority of their needs on campus.” The Commons handles about 6,000 transactions per day.

•Sustainability has been another area of growth for Freeman. The Redmond campus earned a 3-star rating from the Green Restaurant Association, the first 3-star rating given to a corporate account. “To me, we blazed new ground for an operation of this scale and we’re still doing it. We are on track to be completely zero waste. We’re at 99% right now.” Other sustainability accomplishments include recycling 10,000 gallons of biodiesel annually, composting, eliminating plastic water bottles and reducing refuse sent to landfills by 50%.

•Freeman has also embraced the technology that Microsoft is producing by implementing several phone apps related to foodservice. The TAGs program places QR codes on a variety of food-related items that [when scanned] take you to a website that offers nutrition info, daily specials or discounts. “We started to play with the technology a little bit and what it did was give the people who developed these apps a measure of success to show what [the apps] could do. We were helping out the company by piloting the technology in the café.”

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
nuts

We decided through focus group feedback that our freshmen struggled with the allergy-friendly options or options for students with diabetes on campus. In response, we decided to have a dinner the first few weeks of classes to let some of these students know what was available and let them network with their peers and others with allergies or diabetes. NC State Dining chefs prepared menu items based on foods from cultures around the world. ... From delicious sliced sweet potatoes to savory Ikarian-style roasted chicken, students were able to sample global dishes free of allergens.

Ideas and Innovation
coffee cups

We started a monthly Coffee Hour with just the department director. The goal is to gather 
staff feedback about their jobs and answer individual questions. After the first event, 
several staff members emailed stating they just wanted to meet with the director without 
their supervisors. Now, the meetings offer an opportunity for more of a one-on-one conversation without the presence of the supervisor they 
deal with day in and day out.

Ideas and Innovation
salad

We’re currently piloting a Salad Bar Happy Hour 
in Cafe 16. Due to Health Department regulations, any self-serve salad bar items must be disposed of after service. The salad bar goes “on sale” for 25 cents an ounce post-lunchtime to help reduce waste as well as offer value to customers.

Menu Development
sauces

Adding an entirely new cuisine to the menu can feel daunting. But what if you could dabble in international flavors simply by introducing a few new condiments? For inspiration, FSD talked to operators who are offering a range of condiments plucked from global regional cuisines.

“Most ethnic cuisines have some sort of sauce or condiment relishes that go with their dishes,” says Roy Sullivan, executive chef with Nutrition & Food Services at UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco. Condiments offered to diners at UCSF Medical include chimichurri (Argentina), curry (India), tzatziki (...

FSD Resources