Damian Monticello: Marketing master

Two years ago, Damian Monticello joined an insurance firm as head of foodservice and undertook a task similar to that facing his peers around the B&I segment: eliminating a subsidy (in this case, $3.25 per person annually among a population of 8,000) and making the operation not only self-sufficient but profitable as well.

Since that time, he has steadily taken sales at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida upward—from $2.2 million in 2002 to $2.7 million in 2003, and then to over $3 million last year—without increasing prices. Fresh food sales from vending have increased a whopping 145% per month while cafeteria participation this year is up a hefty 10,000 transactions (Feb. 2005 compared to Feb. 2004). Meanwhile, check averages have climbed an average of 10%.

Monticello, corporate food service liaison, brings to the job a degree in marketing and advertising, five years in food and beverage management with the Ritz Carlton hotels, as well as—most recently—a stint as general manager for Roadhouse Grill. In fact, working in the hotel and restaurant sectors and realizing he’d never be able to spend holidays with his wife and two young daughters, prompted his search for a job in the Monday-through-Friday (and holidays off) world of business-and-industry.

In a rut: “When I arrived, I saw there was a lot of established routine,” Monticello recalls. “Almost all contractors do cycle menus, but customers were in a rut and knew what would be here daily. Aramark has been the only foodservice provider here for about 20 years and that relationship helps us get along. Since I’ve [worked in] hotels and restaurants, I understand their staffing and food cost issues. But I realized we had a lot of ‘tools’ here we could use to get us out of the rut.”

The tools Monticello identified were used to implement several major marketing initiatives that would generate excitement in the dining environment for the numerous employees who had become used to viewing foodservice as a benefit rather than a service. But first he realized a total analysis of the operation was in order.

The overall foodservice program includes four employee cafeterias, three of which are in Jacksonville and serve 8,000 customers in all; one in Miami serves about 500. There are vending programs supporting 1,500 employees in 21 offices throughout the state. Monticello also oversees the operations of two c-store/gift shops in Jacksonville operated by a local Hallmark franchisee. Corporate Services Group is the primary vending contractor in Jacksonville while Canteen handles vending for southern Florida venues.

A ‘star’ is born: It was on the main corporate campus in Jacksonville, with a building population of about 4,700, that Monticello identified executive chef Christian Jendrasak as having major marketing potential. “For two years running,” he says, “Chef Christian won this district level competition, Aramark Culinary Excellence [or ACE] Challenge, and last year he was a bronze medal winner at the national level. We had the talent here, but customers didn’t know about it.”

To get the word out to employees, posters bear Jendrasak’s photo and copies of his award-winning recipes are free-for-the-taking at the registers. “We want Chef Christian to be walking around the servery at lunch and a lot of customers do know him by name,” Monticello notes. “I want his face to be the face of the operation.”

The ‘Y’ initiative: In a second marketing initiative, Monticello partnered foodservice with the management team of the in-house YMCA facility to create a “healthy item” once a week. About 26% of the population at the main campus are members of the YMCA and a newsletter focusing on healthy lifestyles goes only to them. Now, their management provides foodservice with a recipe to be menued once a month, plus copies are available at the register.

“Participation in the cafeterias increased over the last two years from 18% to about 30% due to those marketing programs,” he reports, “in combination with efforts to educate employees about the value of having their own ‘restaurant’ right here—even though there are 60 to 70 competing locations within driving distance.”

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