Liz Simmonds: Tools for success

Published in FSD Update

Simmonds has transformed foodservice for Bon Appétit at SAS.

By 
Lindsey Ramsey, Contributing Editor

At a Glance

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

Accomplishments

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

Training

Simmonds says she thinks a big part of her success at SAS can be attributed to her love of training. 

“Training is kind of my baby,” she says. “Not only training my staff but also training the people I work with in relation to my client at SAS,” which goes back to that relationship building that was so important in her transition into her role.

Simmonds says her team had to take  employees who didn’t have a lot of foodservice experience and train them to be the caliber of employees that Bon Appétit demands. One way she was able to do that was exploiting the construction delays of the space.

“We had a lot of time for training with our staff in the classroom, which was very beneficial,” Simmonds says. “Then, in terms of on-the-job training, we were able to get in the space without actually having to serve anyone, which was important to get everyone up to speed on what Bon Appétit stands for and to learn our mission. Once we were open, training [became] ongoing. I always want to make sure that I am giving my employees the tools necessary for them to grow. I have formal, scheduled training for my managers, and new employees go through an orientation. Then we do weekly training for safety and daily training for food. We offer quarterly training for everything else.”

Training is at the root of what Simmonds says is her management philosophy, which is based on creating a learning atmosphere.

“I’m a very direct and honest manager, which sometimes people don’t like,” Simmonds says. “I like to provide people with the tools so they can fend for themselves. I don’t like to babysit, micromanage or look over their shoulders. Once they have the tools, it’s up to them to do what they will. I’m here if there are questions or [if someone] needs guidance. Training gives me such pleasure and satisfaction, especially when I can see an employee master something they weren’t able to do before.”

Catering Director Way says this style of management has served her well in her quest to grow as an employee. “[Simmonds] is always thinking ahead and talking with us about how we can make things better, who we can inspire to do better and how we can make our customer happier,” Way says. “Every day she pushes us to do better. I have never had a manager push me to succeed, and believe that I can succeed, the way she has done.”

Simmonds’ passion for training can be traced back to her roots in foodservice. Though she says she grew up in a real “meat and potato” household, she ended up working in foodservice jobs in high school, most significantly at a country club during the summers.

“Originally foodservice was just a job to me,” Simmonds recalls. “I didn’t really enjoy it at that early stage. It was a way to have money during school. However, I had some mentors at the country club where I worked who I really wanted to [emulate]. I thought they were very good at what they did and I thought I could be good at it.”

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Stout with a degree in hotel and restaurant management, Simmonds got her first job at Fuddruckers. After returning to school for a master’s degree in accounting, Simmonds worked as assistant comptroller for the restaurants and bars at the Mall of America. It was there she decided foodservice operations were where she belonged, and she joined Bon Appétit in 1993. 

Acquiring new business

Simmonds’ knack for operations has paid off for Bon Appétit at SAS since the opening of the EBC. SAS was so happy with the opening and continued success that the company asked Bon Appétit to take over another cafeteria on campus, Building R, which is the research and development building.

“There is a great diverse group of people over there,” Simmonds says. “It’s been exciting and challenging to try to please everyone. We offer a lot of curries, vegetarian/vegan and health-conscious cuisine in that location. It’s set up in a similar way to the EBC except we do not have sushi over there. We serve about 1,000 people on average at both locations. SAS also came to us and said they were going to be opening a new building in the fall of 2014 and they wanted us to take over the foodservice at that one as well. So we are ready to move in as soon as they get it built.” 

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