Damian Monticello: Marketing master
Now, to make the price advantage tangible, one item at each station is chosen every day and posted with the cafeteria price plus the price it sells for at a specific local restaurant. For example, a hot entrée such as Asiago crusted chicken breast with two sides and a roll sells for $4.85, while a similar dish at a nearby eatery is $7.99. Then, at the World’s Fare station featuring pizza and paninis, a Sicilian-style meat calzone is priced at $3.95 vs. $7.50 at a local pizzeria.
Subsidy in perspective: “Basically, we’ve managed to break even and seen record years for performance of the program without price increases—and that’s viewing the program as a whole including cafeterias, catering, vending and c-stores,” he explains. “The Aramark program on its own at our current pricing would be a subsidized account. But when you put the commissions from everything together as a whole, it’s breaking even and we’re satisfied.”
Of course, it is part of Monticello’s role to negotiate with outside vendors and he recently effected the switch to Corporate Services Group to manage vending for the Jacksonville operations. Previously, BCBSF owned the equipment, but he concedes it was “a very haphazard look.”
Now, with the vending contractor providing equipment, maintenance and stocking, there’s a more uniform, polished look. All glass-front beverage vending machines displaying a wide array of product have been installed along with new cold food machines stocked with fresh-made entrees such as Southwestern chicken with black beans and rice; whole turkey legs; burgers and an array of salads all prepared at Corporate Services Group’s commissary. Microwave ovens are available nearby for bringing hot entrees up to temperature.
Vending soars 145%: “We’ve seen a big increase in weekly vending sales, especially from the cold food machines,” Monticello says. “We did a sampling of items at each facility for a day, just to let employees see and taste what’s new.On average, fresh food sales have increased 145% per month. Now, we’re seeing vending sales of about $21,000 per week in the Jacksonville area.”
Meanwhile, the cafeteria continues to serve thousands more customers than it served during the same time period a year earlier. “I think the whole marketing effort got them in and once they were able to taste the food and see it’s not ‘cafeteria’ food, they were happy to keep coming back,” Monticello contends. “We’re making sure by using fresh ingredients. Our main thing was getting them in the door so they’d see the quality and the cost savings plus realizing they don’t need to find a parking spot when they return from eating out. In a way we’ve been a lucky recipient of the [tight] economy and the high cost of gas, but really getting the message out was a key factor in getting them in.”
Accepting credit: For an almost immediate check average increase, Monticello switched his enterprise from one that was “cash only” to “all major credit cards accepted.” Using the regular phone lines at the outset, 8% to 10% of sales were on credit cards, but the recent installation of a new point of sale system at all registers (still being installed at presstime) has already made a positive impact.
“Since the new system allows us to track the peak business cycles at 15-minute intervals, we know at what time we need more or less staffing so it allows us to manage the labor piece better,” he reports. “It also gives us sales information as to what is the highest selling or lowest selling item, so it’s another tool to help us manage food cost as well. But, perhaps above all, a high-speed Internet transaction is faster than using cash—and one of our big objectives is providing convenience especially since many employees only have 30 minutes for lunch. Now, with high-speed Internet access, we’re seeing about 15% to 17% of sales are done by credit cards.”
Concomitantly, the check average has increased from $3.35 to $3.60.
Refreshing catering: Catering presentation has also received some updating—or “refreshing,” in Aramark terms. “We established criteria of what certain set ups should look like and what type of platters should be used,” he says. “A catered function is a big thing for employees and we want to make sure it’s the best.”
Catering at the main campus accounts for a substantial part of annual revenues, and Monticello expects to transition to new software by June. This will enable customers to order via the intranet from on-line menus using a standardized ordering form.