How to avoid opening day roadblocks

grand opening stamp

The ability to adjust on the fly is a key job requirement for any foodservice manager, but doing so during the stress of opening a new facility could be described as an art. “After you’ve worked for a number of years, you get that sixth sense of how to adjust quickly,” says Scott Almy, director of dining room services at Morningside Ministries Community in Boerne, Texas.

Days before opening a new dining room at the senior living community, Almy and his staff discovered that sufficient prep space had not been accounted for. A wheeled table was brought in, but a visit from the health department found the table took up too much room in the small kitchen.

Fortunately, the solution was a straightforward one: bringing in a smaller table instead of gutting part of the space to reconfigure. “It seems obvious, but it goes with my philosophy of ‘keep it simple,’” says Almy. Careful planning—and quick problem-solving—can help avoid the unforeseen pitfalls of a renovation.

Plan, plan, plan

The blueprints for a new dining hall at Berklee College of Music in Boston had been in place for four years, but after the opening in 2013, staff realized there were not enough clean dishes for the dining floor. Plans had called for one dish machine for the two floors of student dining. “We quickly saw this wasn’t going to work,” says Jessica Mackool, general manager of dining services for Aramark.

The fix: Adding a ventless dish machine to ease the strain without drastically altering the infrastructure. “The architect’s plans are thought through with the best intentions, but you’ve got to be realistic when something doesn’t work,” Mackool says.

Getting it right

At the Forest at Duke, a retirement community in Durham, N.C., the biggest issue was not the reopening of the dining rooms but how staff adjusted during construction. Residents had high expectations of the dining service, and didn’t want that to change their routines while upgrades were being made.

The fix: “We converted our auditorium into a huge dining room and worked closely with Morrison Community Living to make sure the food and service were up to our high standards,” Forest at Duke CEO Anita Holt says. “It showed me that with the right people, equipment and attitude you can turn just about anywhere into a dining room.”

Count on your friends

Connections are just one advantage of being part of a large foodservice operation. When Mackool first was consulted about the plans for Berklee’s new dining hall, she worked closely with Aramark to make sure the staff wasn’t overwhelmed by a crush of diners curious about the new facility. “I was able to have six executive chefs from our region come to help at the opening, plus we had plenty of marketing, catering and front-of-the-house support,” she says. 

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