Jean Petke: The Consummate Partner

Keeping an arm's length: All providers operate in an independent profit-and-loss situation. Southern, the sole contract management company on campus today, serves approximately 1,000 daily customers in the main cafeteria and has a solid relationship with Eastman, and Petke. "If a Southern manager wants to do a special promo, such as a barbecue with tents set up outside, their manager and I talk about it," she says. "I helped her work out the logistics the first time so now she can continue that procedure on her own."

Petke offers support, and facilitating communication is a big part of her job, but does not provide major renovation, perhaps a paint job at most. "Our relationship with these companies is a business partnership, we're looking for a win-win-win. That's my job as liaison. We're looking out for the best interests of Eastman, its employees and customers, and the foodservice operators," she asserts.

Petke hasn't hesitated to replace vendors not meeting these goals. One company experiencing safety issues, for example, was gone in short order. "This is a chemical plant after all," she says, and problems maintaining safety standards are not tolerated. "We brought in another company."

Various Eastman departments send out for food occasionally, so Petke has contracts with 25 authorized outside caterers. Eastman does not receive a commission from those on the list, but the contract guarantees that they're inspected and law-abiding operations in order to protect employees and customers. The list is available to all Eastman employees.

Cash sales focus: Petke keeps very close tabs on the sales figures and is pleased that cafe  revenues (that's cash sales, not including vending) are up 17.5% since January 2000 despite a 13.7% population decrease due to a major layoff in 1999, the first in the company's history. Meanwhile, prices have only increased 10.5% in that period, so she knows the operation has gained ground.

"Our sales have been steadily increasing," she notes. "People vote with their dollars. We feel our employees are pleased with what we've done. Many outside restaurants will deliver to the plant, so we have to say we believe this (virtual foodcourt) suits our employees."

Facilitating communication is the part of the job that Petke particularly enjoys since it enhances the individual location as well as the overall foodservice operation. She has a cache of equipment left from the self-op days (items such as large outdoor grills that get hitched behind a truck for easy transport, tents, etc.) and even access to the on-site print shop for the production of posters and other signage.

"That's where this partnership comes in," she happily reports. "Recently we've begun to have periodic meetings. Although they're all competitors, we had some things in common to talk about. Everybody wanted more business and needed to figure out how to attract more customers. All agreed there was plenty of business to go around. They also agreed that people wouldn't want to eat in the same place each day. Out of that group meeting came the idea that we needed to get information out."

Keeping in touch: Going forward, Petke will spend half her time working on areas outside of foodservice, a change necessitated by staff cuts. To streamline her job, she will continue to publish a monthly newsletter providing information written at a level appropriate to all foodservice workers. "Since I began the newsletter I get very few phone calls," she says.

"I write about foodcourt sales revenue. I send them all the financial information so they can see the exact spreadsheet and charts that I'm looking at, and if I see sales are slipping, we'll talk about it. It's all part of communication."

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