Liz Simmonds: Tools for success

Simmonds has transformed foodservice for Bon Appétit at SAS.

At a Glance

  • 2,535 meals served daily
  • $2.8 million annual sales volume
  • 55 FTEs


Liz Simmonds, has transformed foodservice for Bon Appétit at SAS by:

  • spearheading the successful opening of the foodservice component at the Executive Briefing Center (EBC), the face of SAS
  • fostering a supportive relationship with the client, an important task because Bon Appétit is the first contractor SAS has allowed on campus
  • developing training programs that allow her staff to provide exceptional service and equip them with the tools they need to move up in the company
  • translating the success of the EBC into the acquisition of new business for Bon Appétit, including a café at Building R and an under-construction café

Liz Simmonds sees herself as the guardian of a great toolbox. As resident district manager for Bon Appétit at SAS headquarters in Cary, N.C., Simmonds’ leadership and supportive nature have made what could have been a rocky transition—Bon Appétit is the first contractor SAS has allowed on campus—into a professional and fruitful client/contractor relationship. From new cafés to comprehensive training programs, Simmonds has been able to give her employees the tools to make Bon Appétit’s presence on campus a positive one.

“Liz is an incredibly supportive manager, but she is also very much a teacher,” says Elizabeth Way, catering director for Bon Appétit at SAS. “She gives you the tools to answer your own questions and make your own decisions but is willing to help with anything at any time.”

Executive Briefing Center

When Simmonds came to SAS three years ago, her major directive was to facilitate the opening of SAS’ Platinum LEED-certified Executive Briefing Center. This building is the face of SAS to all potential and current customers, so the company wanted to create a high-end experience for its café. Because of this, Simmonds says, SAS brought in Bon Appétit. The café features eight stations, including sushi, a chef’s table, grill, pizza/pasta, a large salad bar and a grab-and-go area, plus a full-service coffee shop. All catering is also produced at the EBC.

“The goal of the entire EBC space was to provide an experience for the customer,” Simmonds says. “That had to translate to the café and dining facility. There was a lot of thought put into where SAS and their customers would meet, so it’s a place where people want to gather. It was a huge undertaking. We had a very successful opening and have exceeded the client’s expectations. We do probably five times more catering than they thought we were going to do.”

Because the building was a new construction, there were delays in getting into the space, which Simmonds says was one of the biggest challenges. There was also the added difficulty with the fact that Simmonds and her team weren’t part of the initial planning of the space, so there were some decisions that were made that the team had to learn how to handle, such as the introduction to induction cooking. 

“[The construction delay] actually worked to our benefit because [the space had] a lot of new things that no one had ever seen before,” Simmonds says. “The product looks fantastic but there are some challenges such as temperature, etc.” The delay gave the team the chance to learn the new technology, which has made the staff grow, she says.

Building relationships

Simmonds says being the first contractor on what was a completely self-op campus was one of her biggest challenges at SAS. There are still two self-op buildings on campus, so she had to form relationships with the team at SAS to ensure a smooth transition. 

“It was more like a training,” Simmonds says. “I had to figure out how to first get SAS to work with me and then figure out how we could work with each other. That was one of my other main directives when I got here—form those relationships. I think I’ve done remarkably well with that.”

How was she able to do it? Simmonds says it was about removing the fear factor. “I think everyone was a little nervous to have me come in and command their high-profile new café,” Simmonds says. “I tried to provide a very relaxed environment. I’m also not the type of person who gets excited. I’m proactive instead of reactive. I stay calm. I can recall so many people saying to me when we were opening, ‘I can’t believe how calm you are.’ If I made it look easy, then they were satisfied.”

More From FoodService Director

Managing Your Business
alumni worker

It’s a sure sign that a school is doing something right when its students want to come back and work as adults. From the standpoint of the foodservice director, though, there is plenty to gain from retaining homegrown talent—call it the ultimate return on investment. In the wake of back-to-school season, two dining programs with a robust alumni contingent share their thoughts on hiring former customers.

Local expertise

At Georgia Southern University, about one-third of Eagle Dining Services’ 107 full-time employees are alumni. “They way we do things on our campus may be very...

Managing Your Business
business ladder climbing illustration

Recruiting talent is only half the battle for Mike Folino, associate director of nutrition services at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio. Once he’s attracted good employees, providing clear opportunities for advancement can help retain them—but knowing when to bring up the topic in conversation can be tricky.

Prior to hiring

Folino likes to touch on advancement during the initial interview process, but the extent to which he does so changes case by case. “I have had interviews where we knew right away that we needed to discuss our structure and...

Managing Your Business
hands team

In November, students at University of Missouri in Columbia began leading protests against discrimination faced by people of color on campus—including some marches through the dining halls. Julaine Kiehn, director of the school’s campus dining services, said the 2015-16 school year was a tough one, but she was proud of MU’s students for being at the forefront of a national movement.

And not only did the protests launch important conversations with students, but also with staff. Kiehn heard the protests and thought that her student workers, at least, might not feel safe and welcome...

Ideas and Innovation
woman surprise

When I joined the staff at FoodService Director in the spring of 2015, I couldn’t believe how much there was to learn about the intricacies of the industry. My past experience, from kindergarten to my college days to on-the-job meals, would lead me to believe that noncommercial dining was a kind of automated process—an amenity that’s expected, and one you only become aware of if something goes wrong.

But as with my own household chores, there are no magical elves making sure the business of feeding students, seniors and hospital patients is done, and done well. Foodservice...

FSD Resources