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.