Rodolfo Rodriguez: Buffet Impresario

Less room service: Previously, there was only one dining room, with five staff members taking orders, serving about 80 people. Since patients thought they had to wait too long (anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour) most preferred to order a tray and eat in their room. "Today, we deliver about 100 trays to the small building and only about 150 trays to the larger one, so that's about 250 trays out of the total of 705 patients," Rodriguez explains.

With fewer trays being ordered, plate waste has substantially decreased, primarily because people often ordered more food than they could eat, then sent back items untouched. "We are at least 5% down in food cost since starting the buffet," he points out. "It was running $98,000 per month for (the health center), $125,000 for both buildings."

Color-coded: The fact that patients on special diets can also be accommodated by buffet service is probably the most intriguing aspect of the concept. To make it work, Rodriguez has trained at least 30 members of his staff and stationed them on the line. "We make sure patients understand their special diet," he explains. "They wear color-coded bracelets; 13 different colors represent 13 different diets. Plus employees have lists with the patients' names and diets, just in case there's any question."

The most common diet is the regular diet indicated by a white bracelet. Next most common is chopped (red bracelet), with the server chopping the food to order. For fine chopped (an orange bracelet), food is put into a blender right on the line for a brief count. For puree diets (pink bracelet), food is pureed in a blender for a longer count.

"For example, we'll puree a pork chop with a bit of gravy and (separately) green beans with a bit of butter," Rodriguez explains. "We'll strain the soup for them, and they can have regular white bread without the crust."

Custom fit: For other diets, different versions of the same foods are set out having been prepared in advance (i.e., less sweet, low salt). Since many patients require liquids that are of "“nectar consistency" or "honey consistency," specially prepared beverages such as water, milk, juice and coffee are purchased; these patients can usually handle regular solid foods. Presently, only one patient requires a renal diet and he receives a tray in his room.

Staff training is key to the program's success. Rodriguez admits the department he took over almost a decade ago was not the finely tuned team of today. "In the beginning, we had a lot of problems and I had to terminate many people," Rodriguez recalls. "They were working without direction. I had many meetings with them and discussed what we needed to do. created a chef supervisor position and an assistant chef supervisor. Since they work alternate weekends, there's always one on the job. I also created the position of chief dietitian and she and I write the menus. Now they know I make all promotions (including management positions) from inside the department since I feel they created this style of service with me."

Intent on having "the best foodservice department in New Jersey" and reflecting the goal of his administrator, Mimi Feliciano, Rodriguez requires all of his employees to take the sanitation class every year and be certified (or re-certified) by the town. Many of his employees also pursue the English as a Second Language classes offered twice a week after work, encouraged by the example their bi-lingual boss sets. For his part, Rodriguez pursues every opportunity to further his own foodservice management credentials by taking courses offered at nearby Rutgers University. He's also on deck and warming up for the next potential home run.

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
salad

We’re currently piloting a Salad Bar Happy Hour 
in Cafe 16. Due to Health Department regulations, any self-serve salad bar items must be disposed of after service. The salad bar goes “on sale” for 25 cents an ounce post-lunchtime to help reduce waste as well as offer value to customers.

Menu Development
sauces

Adding an entirely new cuisine to the menu can feel daunting. But what if you could dabble in international flavors simply by introducing a few new condiments? For inspiration, FSD talked to operators who are offering a range of condiments plucked from global regional cuisines.

“Most ethnic cuisines have some sort of sauce or condiment relishes that go with their dishes,” says Roy Sullivan, executive chef with Nutrition & Food Services at UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco. Condiments offered to diners at UCSF Medical include chimichurri (Argentina), curry (India), tzatziki (...

Ideas and Innovation
turnip juice brine

Give leftover brine new life by adding it to vegetables. In an interview with Food52, Stuart Brioza, chef and owner of State Bird Provisions in San Francisco, says that he adds a splash of leftover brine while sauteeing mushrooms to increase their flavor profile. “We like to ferment turnips at the restaurant, and it’s a great way to use that brine—though dill pickle brine would work just as well,” he says.

Menu Development
side dishes

Operators looking to increase sales of side dishes may want to focus on freshness and value. Here’s what attributes consumers say are important when picking sides.

Fresh - 73% Offered at a fair price - 72% Satisfies a craving - 64% Premium ingredients - 56% Natural ingredients - 49% Signature side - 47% Something familiar - 46% Housemade/made from scratch - 44% Something new/unique - 42% Large portion size - 42% Healthfulness - 40% Family-size - 40%

Source: Technomic’s 2017 Starters, Small Plates and Sides Consumer Trend Report , powered by Ignite

FSD Resources