On Bringing in Outside Concepts, for Tod Nissle and Paul Egger

Microsoft focuses on variety by bringing in outside brands.

At Microsoft, in Redmond, Calif., there is a long tradition of bringing in local restaurants to offer more variety to its customers. The account is currently looking at bringing in local pizza restaurants to supplement dining’s redevelopment of its own pizza. FSDspoke to Paul Egger, senior services manager, and Tod Nissle, regional vice president of national accounts for Compass Group, about the challenges involved with bringing these outside concepts in.

Q. How did the idea to focus on pizza first get started?

Paul: We were sampling our standard pizza. We didn’t get complaints about the pizza but, personally, I didn’t think it was the best pizza we could deliver. We’ve changed our program overall to make sure people love eating here. For us, that means great food. We’re doing a lot of that food in house but we also bring in variety with different flavors and approaches. We changed our in-house pizza to a really great, Napoli-style pizza made in wood-fired ovens, but we still knew we couldn’t have just one variety. We needed different perspectives on pizza so we thought, “let’s bring in some local restaurants to add that variety.”

Q. What is the process to decide which brands to bring in?

Paul Egger, MicrosoftTod: We have a very established local restaurant program here. The local restaurants we bring in used to be static. Once Paul decided to start rotating them we realized this increased variety, and participation went up double digits.

Paul: We just found being static wasn’t the way to go. It’s good for a week or two and then it dwindles. Now, we bring in local restaurants weekly in all of our cafés. There will be a rotation of about 24 restaurants. When we approach the restaurants we present them with some data to show them the success of what we are doing and the numbers that they could expect to achieve. It’s really a good deal for them. We have the infrastructure. They just need to bring their product to the table and serve it. For pizza concepts, we are bringing in about 10 vendors that will rotate.  

Q. What are the different styles of pizza you plan to offer?

Tod: We’re just at the forefront of aligning our contracts with the pizza brands but there are two strategies we are looking at for this. As Paul mentioned, the Compass team here did a lot of work developing a Napoli pizza concept that uses a wood-fired oven. If a location has one of those ovens then we are going to make our own pizza there.

Strategy No. 2 is, where we are unable to provide our in-house pizza experience we’re going to sub out the pizza concept through the rotating brands. Now within the pizza community there are all different kinds of pizzas, from flatbreads to deep dish. We want to make sure that as we look at the pizzas we are bringing in that they run the gamut of different types. We’re not just looking for a round-pie type of solution. We’re looking at bringing the best in the marketplace to campus. As we go to recruit we’re interested in establishments that have a very solid local presence that can benefit the Microsoft employees. 

Q. What are some of the challenges with bringing in local concepts?

Tod: The first is quality assurance standards. We’re held to a very high level within this environment because we serve nearly 40,000 people a day, so the standards that we maintain are very different from local operators. There is a mindset change when the outside operators come into this environment. The other thing is really just the business itself. We run Monday through Friday for breakfast and lunch. Retail establishments often run seven days a week, 365 days a year for lunch and dinner so that is a mindset change in terms of managing inventories and managing the teams to capitalize on that very small window of sales opportunity.

Paul: A lot of the brands make their product outside and then bring it in. It’s much more like a catering setup in the café. We’re looking to evolve toward where we want to be very transparent in terms of how the food is prepared. We want to be much more à la minute and less just serving, so we’re working with the brands to put the right equipment in so they can physically prepare the food in front of the guests just like Compass is doing. 

Q. What advice can you give to other operators who might want to do something similar?

Tod: Ultimately we have a lot of data points that illustrate that variety builds participation. By virtue of inviting vendors in without a lot of infrastructure costs, you are able to rotate variety at very little cost to the environment and provide that variety to the guest. Driving participation is one of the key goals. It tends to be more challenging if you compartmentalize yourself in a box and say we’re going to do pizza ourselves every day. It’s not quite the same variety than if you are able to bring in some rotating brands. 

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
sriracha bottles

Generally, I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions. They tend to be grandiose and unrealistic—and why not just resolve to start doing/not doing that thing you’re not doing/doing right away instead of going hog wild until Jan. 1? (New Year’s Day also is my birthday, and if you can’t eat at your favorite Thai restaurant and sip bubbly then, well, when can you?)

I do, however, enjoy the raucous singing of “Auld Lang Syne” to ring in the new year, though I’ve never been quite sure whether you’re supposed to be remembering the year fondly or happily putting it out of mind. While I...

Ideas and Innovation
cold storage boxes

When working with a small footprint, the back of the house often gets squeezed in the interest of preserving precious seats. But as storage space contracts, these restaurant operators are getting resourceful with everything from shelves to ceiling height to inventory in ways that FSDs can apply, too.

“When we were first tasked with figuring out smaller footprints, when it came to interiors, it was like a bad riddle,” says Trinity Hall, SVP of development for Dallas-based Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, which shrunk its prototype from 2,200 square feet to 1,800. “Let’s make it smaller and...

Ideas and Innovation
baked bread

Instead of sourcing value-added product to reduce labor, the food and nutrition team at University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics in Madison outsources its baked goods to a local shop that hires only formerly incarcerated workers. The bakery was able to hire two new former inmates in order to keep up with the volume needs of the hospital. “We want to be really entrenched in the community, not just have a building that sits in the center of Madison,” says Amy Mihm, clinical nutrition specialist for the hospital.

Managing Your Business
food symbols allergens

Bellevue School District in King County, Wash., has reduced the instances of life-threatening allergic reactions by 94% since 2013. Wendy Weyer, business manager for nutrition services, says that success stems from direct communication with the district’s 20,000 students.

Q: What was the first thing you did to start reducing allergic reactions?

A: More than five years ago, we changed our menu signage to provide information to students on what the common allergens were on all the foods that were served at every station. We use symbols such as an egg or a wheat stalk for younger...

FSD Resources