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.”

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
star wars storm trooper

My favorite event—because I’m kind of dorky—is our “May the fourth be with you” (aka “Star Wars”) day on May 4. The whole dining team dresses up, and we offer things like Chewbaklava, Boba Fettuccine and BB-8 Buckeyes. We had a guest cry because they got to take a picture with Chewy.

Menu Development
recipe revamp chicken soup

As a continuous care retirement community, The Garlands of Barrington in Illinois provides daily foodservice to 270 independent living and skilled nursing care residents, with the majority of sodium restrictions coming from the latter, says Executive Chef Nicola Torres. Instead of cooking two versions of chicken noodle soup—a favorite offered at least twice a week—he reworked his recipe into a flavorful lower-sodium version that appeals to all. “Everybody eats soup, so I created a homemade stock that uses no salt at all, ramping up the flavor with fresh herbs and plenty of vegetables,...

Ideas and Innovation
tray number

We created lucky tray days to help create an experience surrounding our brand. The trays are numbered; we pick a number and the winner receives a free lunch. We’ve enlisted the help of one of our coaches, who calls out the random lucky winner, and it drums up a lot of excitement.

Managing Your Business
line kings girl goat open kitchen

Open kitchen concepts satisfy guests’ curiosity and desire for transparency. But there are some caveats. Here’s how to create a positive experience for both staff and customers when the walls are down.

Train to serve

With the back-of-house up front, everybody gets hospitality training. “Our cooks understand the food and what they’re doing incredibly, but translating that to guests requires [soft] skills that need to be honed,” says Marie Petulla, co-owner of two restaurants in Southern California.

Dress for a mess

At Girl & The Goat in Chicago, chef-owner Stephanie...

FSD Resources