Helen Wechsler: Leading By Example
Helen Wechsler focuses on staff engagement at Boston College.
HELEN WECHSLER has transformed the dining services department at BOSTON COLLEGE by:
- ENCOURAGING the use of local and healthy products by creating a farmers' market, opening a locally focused location called The Loft @ Addie's and a vegetarian concept called Be'an Green
- IMPROVING department communication by establishing an employee council and improving the monthly employee newsletter
- DEVELOPING a Gold Standards of Service program and a Shoot for the Stars incentive program to motivate employees
- SPEARHEADING an employee wellness initiative and implementing a new training program
Helen Wechsler wants her staff to be engaged on every level. As director of BC Dining at 14,700-student Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Mass., Wechsler knows that a happy staff makes for happy customers.
“Helen has a great management style in that she respects her team for their knowledge and experience and lets us do our job,” says Megan O’Neill, associate director for restaurant operations. “Helen leads by example but is also not afraid to say when something is not her expertise. She is very open with her feedback and is genuine when she says thank you.”
Since becoming director in 2005, Wechsler’s many initiatives have increased revenue from $25.4 million to $39 million, a growth factor of 53.5%. While she admits some of this increase is due to inflation, the rest is attributable to new business for the department.
Focus on local: One of the initiatives that Wechsler is most proud of is the department’s weekly farmers’ market.
“We partnered with one of our produce purveyors and they bring the produce from the local farms to us and we set up our own farmers’ market,” Wechsler says. “Our students are allowed to use their mandatory meal plan to buy food from the market. It’s new money. It’s trying to promote and educate students about local food. We run it for the first eight weeks of fall.”
Wechsler says the department has been able to bring the market’s local philosophy into the rest of the department, most overtly through a local-focused café called The Loft @ Addie’s.
“When we were developing our farmers’ market a group of students from the Real Food Challenge—a student organization—came to us and demanded a local operation on campus,” Wechsler says. “For the whole summer a group of about five students, myself and my purchasing person got together and worked out what the philosophy of the location was going to be and set out to write a menu that fit. We ended up with The Loft @ Addie’s.”
The Loft @ Addie’s is a dinner-only location that offers flatbread pizzas, housemade veggie burgers, flatbread sandwiches, custom-made salads, soups and desserts. All menu items are locally sourced and “reflect the mission of the concept to provide local and sustainable food options at reasonable prices,” according to BC Dining’s website.
“We wanted to have a venue for students to come and really understand what it means to eat in a very different manner,” Wechsler says. “All the students from Real Food work behind the line so they are able to articulate the story of the local items.”
Another challenge the department faced was vegetarians. To answer the demand for veggie options, the department opened a completely vegetarian concept called Be’an Green last year.
“When you come into our operations we have lots of options for vegetarians, they are just not overt,” Wechsler says. “We came up with Be’an Green where we took the best vegetarian options from each of our concepts and put them all into one.”
Staff engagement: Beyond what she has brought to the department’s food is what Wechsler has done to make her employees happier and more satisfied. This philosophy seems to be working, as the department’s seven-year retention rate is 60%.
“I have an incredible group of people that I work with who are very talented,” Wechsler says. “These are very challenging times as a business that is not the primary business of the institution and as a self-operator. I think the things we’ve done with our people and for our people have actually made us stronger.”