A healthy philosophy

Geisinger's Steve Cerullo doesn't control his customers, but he does control his menu.

By Paul King, Editorial Director

In early March, I paid a visit to Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pa., where the foodservice team recently completed construction on the Atrium Café, a stunning dining space in the campus’s main building. (You can see the Atrium Café in our April cover story, “Great Spaces.”)

I spent some time chatting with Steve Cerullo, the foodservice director, and the conversation eventually came around to issues of health and wellness. Geisinger, like so many hospitals, is working very diligently to encourage employees to live a healthier lifestyle, and the foodservice offerings are playing a role in that effort.

As you might imagine, Cerullo’s team has experienced some pushback from customers as they’ve endeavored to provide healthier items and prepare foods in a manner that reduces such villains as fat and sodium. He shared with me his response to customer complaints, and I thought I’d pass it on to our readers.

“Some customers will come up to me and say, basically, ‘You can’t tell us what to eat,’” Cerullo said. “I tell them, ‘We’re not telling you what to eat. We’re telling you what we’re going to sell. Whether you buy it is up to you.’”

That’s a pretty good approach, in my estimation, because it places the onus right where it belongs—on the customer—while at the same time acknowledging the role of the foodservice operator in the whole wellness battle. In hospitals, universities and school districts, the cafeteria is not just a place where people go to eat. A major component of the mission in each of these segments is education, and so foodservice departments can’t simply operate like restaurateurs and give customers what they want.

As an operator, Cerullo wants to have a successful program. But his main allegiance is to the hospital, and his department’s menus must fit within the institution’s parameters. It is what makes non-commercial foodservice operators’ job so challenging—and so rewarding.