Betty Perez: Performance Perfector

Proponents of self-operated foodservice often find themselves in a do-or-die situation. Having convinced administration to either remain self-operated or convert from contract management, they are thus forced to back up their convictions with tangible, if not immediate, results.

One such hospital foodservice professional is Betty Perez, RD, DHCFA, who played a large part in converting foodservice at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey’s University Hospital to self-operation in the early 1990s—and never looked back.

Her formula is part script, part nuance. The script is familiar: grow retail sales, increase patient satisfaction and cut labor costs, among other things. Her challenge, though, was living up to the extremely high standards that hospital administration set for her.

“The ceo kept telling me, “‘It has to be flawless. It has to be flawless,’” she explains. “I almost felt it was my final exam. Actually, it was.”

Perez oversees a budget in excess of $9 million and generally returns a six-digit profit to the bottom line. She’s possessed of a contagious joy of life that’s always evident in the twinkle in her lively blue eyes and has a genuine love for people—not to mention a passion for food—that resonates with those around her.

Perez faces personal and professional challenges head-on, from taking her department self-op in 1993, to battling cancer in 1995 (when her two sons were eight and 11 years old), to absorbing a recent 20% department-wide staffing cut.

Today her realm encompasses:

  • The Garden Café the main cafeteria with multiple service points).
  • The Balcony Café, a smaller cafeteria.
  • Bistro Café, a 36-seat restaurant.
  • Rx Caterers, which caters about 200 events per month.
  • Two Cruising Cafés —strategically-placed satellite carts, one each in the medical and dental schools.
  • The Gift Shop Emporium.

Perez is also adept at leading her staff of 101.5 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees to achieve the hospital-wide goal of providing 5 Star Customer Service to patients and staff alike, all the while encouraging them to improve their own skills in order to move up the career ladder.

“Flawless’ transition: She joined the department in 1982 as an assistant foodservice director, after a number of years at New York Hospital as administrative senior staff dietitian responsible for the main food production area. She had completed her bachelor in science degree in dietetics—a diversified program with a strong food management component—then served her dietetic internship at New York Hospital, where she was hired immediately for clinical and foodservice management responsibilities. But she soon focused on the facility’s main food production operation.

Taking her department at UMDNJ self-op was a turning point in Perez’ career. The success of her effort culminated with her promotion to director in May 1993. "Food and nutrition was outsourced from 1979 to December 31, 1992, and I was responsible for the coordination of all department functions for conversion to non-contract," she recalls.

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