Mary Cooley: Do the little things

Measuring foodservice success often depends on the type of facility being measured. In a university setting, success can be based on revenue, or the amount of money returned to the university. In a corporation, it may hinge on the strength of the bottom line. In a hospital, patient satisfaction scores might be the prime determinant.

In senior living, the X factor can be as simple as forging a bond between staff and residents. That certainly has been true at Pennswood Village, in Newtown, Pa., where Mary Cooley, R.D., has been the foodservice director for the past two years.

Pennswood Village, a Quaker community, is a 450-resident continuing care retirement community nestled in farm country north of Philadelphia. All but 90 of the residents are independent, with the remainder residing in assisted living or nursing units on site. Although apartments come equipped with kitchens, 80% of the residents partake of at least one community meal a day.

The foodservice facilities consist of a formal dining room, which is open for dinner only; two dining rooms connected to the assisted living and healthcare facilities that are open for lunch and dinner, and a café that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner to staff and residents who are looking for a casual setting or a quick meal on the go.

Tray service is also available for residents who are unable to come to a dining area. According to Cooley, about half of the meals served to residents are in the café, and 24% of the meal service is done in the main dining room.

Residents who choose a meal plan pay a monthly fee and a $5 charge for each meal they eat. Residents who opt out of a meal plan may also choose to eat in the communal setting at an additional charge. Cooley’s team—48 full-time employees and another 60 or so part timers—also will do catered events for residents.

For Cooley, after more than two decades in hospital foodservice, working at Pennswood Village has been a slice of heaven.

“Moving from a corporate setting to a Quaker-based organization and philosophy has been a neat transition,” says Cooley. “The most dramatic example I can think of: When you go to a planning meeting with corporate administrators, you present your plan and they want to know how much it is going to cost, what is the cost-benefit. The focus would always be on the bottom line, and secondary would be, well what’s the goal of the program?

“When I went to my first planning meeting here, they started the meeting with a moment of silence and contemplation,” she recalls. “Then we looked at the strategic plan and it was, ‘let’s talk about our mission. What are our goals here? What else do we need to do? What other aspects should we consider?’ This went on for about an hour and a half, and the last part of the conversation was, ‘OK, how much is this going to cost?’”

As refreshing as the new job may have been, it was not without its challenges, which Cooley has handled masterfully.

FoodService Director - FSD of the Month - Mary Cooley“When I interviewed for the position, I was told they were looking for a strong leader to take a talented team  out of the “silo syndrome,” Cooley says. “What they meant was, within foodservice there was the healthcare group, the production group, the front-of-the-house group and the back-of-the-house group. They were decentralized to the point where each group kept its own employee files.”

To rectify that situation, Cooley simply insisted on communication.

“We didn’t do anything earth-shattering,” she says. “Just a lot of talking. I told them we were going to sit down as a team and do all our goals for the year. We would hold weekly or twice weekly management team meetings as we got up and running, and at least monthly employee meetings so that we could get communication flowing again, get everyone on the same page.”

But Cooley knew that bringing everyone together in the same room wasn’t enough. So she declared the meeting space “a free zone.” Anything and everything could be put on the table to be discussed.

More From FoodService Director

Menu Development
usa map regions

From global flavors to clean labels, it’s clear that some buzzworthy noncommercial menu trends are universal. But FoodService Director ’s 2016 surveys have revealed some noteworthy differences within segments in the Northeast, South, Midwest and West regions. We combed through data from our College and University Census, Hospital Census and Long-Term Care/Senior Living Census for the most surprising variations in menu trends and expectations.

1. Plant-based dishes are on the rise at Midwestern colleges and universities

Seventy-seven percent of C&U operators in this region say...

Industry News & Opinion

Ithaca College is turning to new solutions to address overcrowding at a dining hall that is already understaffed, The Ithacan reports .

The Ithaca, N.Y., school's Terrace Dining Hall has seen a large influx of students this year after being renovated, causing lines to wrap around the dining hall.

To ease congestion, Sodexo Area General Manager Jeffrey Scott told The Ithacan that the eatery has added a separate entree line, as well as signage displaying menu items at less-crowded food stations in an effort to draw students to the other side of the dining hall.

The...

Menu Development
mac cheese pizza

Anybody think the popularity of mac and cheese has played out? Anyone?

More likely, foodservice directors are trying to bake new life into the comfort staple by tweaking the presentation and components. Here’s a snapshot of how that rejuvenation effort looks in streetside restaurants.

Industry News & Opinion

Noncommercial foodservice operations and other employers would be spared from costly new overtime pay regulations if 21 states succeed in the legal challenge they jointly filed yesterday.

The lawsuit asks the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas to set aside the rules, which are scheduled to take effect on Dec. 1.

If the court rejects the request, restaurants and other businesses will be required after that date to pay overtime to any salaried employee who works more than 40 hours in a week and earns less than $47,476 on an annual basis.

The...

FSD Resources