Stephanie Tanner: External Expertise

“This is a very unusual hospital in that they want a lot of catering, and when we do it, we do it big,” Tanner adds. “There are many times where Jeff is doing an event for 300 people, and it really does present its own set of issues.” One such challenge is production, since both catering and foodservice share kitchen and storage space. Staffing is another concern, Tanner says, because “sometimes if catering is doing a major event, they will have to pull in-house staff members to help out.”

Marketing: With such an emphasis on external business at Gerald Champion, Tanner says it is important to have adequate promotions. “Traditional healthcare catering—doing it on property— is a much different animal than doing external catering,” she says. “With external catering, we compete with two smaller catering companies in Alamogordo. It is a business unto itself.” 

Radio plays a major part in the marketing plan. “Because we are largely retail in this hospital, we are known in Alamo-gordo as the place to eat, which is very unusual for a hospital our size,” Tanner says. “We wanted to take that to the next level and the only way to do that was to get mass coverage, which is typically through radio.” And while Tanner says most people aren’t comfortable with the medium, her marketing knowledge—a skill she says she acquired while working on large-budget catered events in Florida, including a gubernatorial dinner for Jeb Bush—has provided her with confidence to be the voice for the hospital’s ads. Tanner runs monthly promotions and gains other exposure by catering events at car dealerships.

Customer satisfaction: “Food is easy,” Tanner says. “One of the most challenging things about my job is getting people to realize that, now more than ever, patients have options to go to a different facility. And it’s not because they are going to get better care, but because of the service levels.” As director of guest services, Tanner not only manages foodservice, but also environment, linen and patient transport services. With the hospital’s expansion plan, Tanner will be able to implement additional programs, which she says will help increase customer satisfaction. One, going into effect next February, is a valet service for hospital patients and guests. “Most of our patients are 50 years or older,” she says, “and for those who have compromised physical abilities, getting them out of the parking lot and into the building has been a challenge.” The service will be free, and Tanner says upstart costs will be less than $12,000 and will require one or two FTEs to run. The cost to maintain the system will be made up for in satisfaction surveys, she adds.

Young-Su Cabos, the foodservice department’s executive chef, says Tanner takes customer service very seriously. “She knows that without the customer, you don’t have a job,” he says. “She tries to make sure everyone is happy, from the outside customers to the in-house customers. I wouldn’t work with any other boss than her.” Cabos adds that in his 25 years in the industry he has encountered many different bosses, many of whom “bark orders and don’t give you the tools to do your job. Stephanie is very fair and makes sure everyone has the right tools and training to do their jobs.”

For her part, Tanner says her biggest career lesson is remembering where she came from. “Re-membering where you were versus where you are, and who helped you get there, keeps you humble and appreciative,” she says. For Tanner, this isn’t just a saying; it’s a practice. “I won my first employee of the month award from Wendy’s in 1987 when I was 17,” she says. “I have this award on my office wall. When my staff needs assurance about how important their job is, I bring them to my office and show them the Wendy’s plaque on the wall and then they get it. Being recognized in your own field is significant, most particularly when the service we provide every day pales in comparison to the clinical aspects.”

Tanner came to healthcare foodservice after working in hotels and at a B&I account for Marriott. “I have a background in customer service, while most people in healthcare foodservice have a clinical background,” she says, adding that it took her two years to adapt to working in hospital foodservice. “When your café has visitors that may have had a death in the family, or they aren’t feeling great that day, that customer is a little different for me,” she says. “They aren’t there on vacation.”

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