Robert Darrah: Going for Gold

Robert Darrah often uses sports analogies to describe the foodservice program at the Legacy Retirement Communities in Lincoln, Neb. “We’re going for the gold. We want the perfect 10,” Darrah says. That competitive quality has served Darrah well in his 10 years as foodservice director at the four facilities that make up the company. When he was hired, the department was struggling, but now, resident satisfaction is at 98% and Darrah managed to shave $120,000 off his operating costs, even with the current challenging economic climate.

Beginnings: Darrah began his career working in Lincoln area restaurants during high school and college until realizing the atmosphere was not for him long-term. “Everything was profit driven and it just didn’t seem like  the career path I wanted to take,” he says. Darrah moved into the noncommercial market after a friend referred him for a position at an area hospital. It was here that Darrah learned the clinical nutritionside of foodservice. A few years later, the position at Legacy “found” him.

“The Legacy owners were looking for someone who had a restaurant background and a nutrition background, but they didn’t want a restaurant manager,” he says. “They wanted somebody who had the complete package with a little bit of a human resources background, but also with business knowledge behind the scenes.”

In 1998, Darrah joined the Legacy team, taking over three 200-resident retirement communities and one 50-resident Alzheimer’s care center. He inherited an operation that was faltering financially and had issues with high employee turnover and theft. “The first thing I said was, ‘I am going to run this kitchen as it were my own business and the decisions that I make will be as if I was spending my own money,’” he says. From that point on, Darrah has been building a foodservice program that he hopes will “outshine all the other retirement communities, not only in Lincoln but also in the Midwest.”

Last year, Darrah thought the program at Legacy was getting close to that goal, but his competitive nature wouldn’t let him stop there. “Resident satisfaction scores were an average of 90% and the owners were happy,” Darrah says. “But it seemed like there was something missing and we wanted to know, how we rank and compare to other retirement communities across the country.”

Robert Darrah, FSD of the Month, Legacy Retirement Communities, cafeGood to best: To help improve Legacy further, Darrah partnered with Don Miller & Associates, a healthcare foodservice consulting firm, in December 2007. “They were taken back. They said, ‘You don’t have any financial problems, you don’t have any satisfaction problems, why are you calling us?’” Darrah recalls. His response: “We want to be the best.”

Don Miller & Associates confirmed Darrah’s suspicion that Legacy was doing good things with its foodservice program but that improvements could still be made. The main suggestion was switching from banquet style dining to restaurant style dining. Residents were selecting dinner entrées one week in advance and were served much like at a catered event. Now, residents are seated at white tablecloth-adorned tables and served by waiters who take their orders at the point of service.

Before the switch could be implemented, however, changes had to made in the facilities and with the staff. Darrah worked closely with Don Miller & Associates’ John Giambaressi, executive director for senior dining, to set up a game plan. “It was kind of like a football team. He gave us the playbook. We studied it, we practiced it and then we went out and we did it,” Darrah says about working with Giambaressi.

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion

The new unpaid-balance policy at Canon-McMillan School District in Pittsburgh is making waves after a former cafeteria worker sounded off about the practice on social media.

Stacy Koltiska said she quit her job with the district after being forced to take hot meals away from students who owed lunch money, CBS News reports .

Under a new policy that was implemented at Canon-McMillan this year, students whose lunch debt exceeds $25 are not allowed to receive a hot lunch. Children in grades K-6 are given a sandwich in its place, and older students receive no lunch. A recent...

Industry News & Opinion

Due to low participation in its lunch program, Talawanda School District in Oxford, Ohio, is raising the price of school meals this year, Patch.com reports .

The cost of school lunches will see a 30-cent increase, half of which is being enacted to cover the district’s budget. The other half is being required by the government to cover the cost of free and reduced-price lunches provided to low-income families. Prior to this year, the district had not raised prices since 2009.

The district’s cafeterias have experienced a decline in student participation since implementing the...

Industry News & Opinion

Six Philadelphia hospitals were honored by the city’s department of public health for healthy food initiatives introduced as part of the local Good Food, Healthy Hospitals program, bizjournals.com reports .

The hospitals each debuted healthy measures to their dining services, such as lowering the cost of water bottles and seltzers, and offering dishes that incorporate local produce. One hospital was also honored for operating its own organic farm.

The facilities that were honored were:

Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia Cancer Treatment Centers of America’s Eastern...
Sponsored Content
chili flakes and peppers spicy hot

From Catallia.

When planning your menus, take note: college and university students think spicy is hot.

Fifty-seven percent of consumers age 18-34 find spicy flavors, “extremely appealing,” according to Technomic. And almost 50% of college students surveyed said they would like their schools to offer more ethnic foods and beverages, states a recent Technomic College & University Consumer Trend Report. Translation: they like their food kicked up a notch!

More Options than Ever

“Students of today are all about flavor,” says Steve Mangan, director of dining for...

FSD Resources