Tony Almedia: In Touch at RWJ

Competing with the street: “Many healthcare operations give their food away, but our price structure is based on the competition outside,” Almeida explains. “If paninis are $5.50 outside, we charge our staff $3.95, $4.95 for visitors—40% higher than the staff price. Now, the dining room food cost average is 35% to 40%, down from 45% to 50% a while ago. Every January, we review each menu item and adjust our prices.” He’s aiming to increase daily sales by 10% to $13,000 by the end of the year.

 October 14, 2003—the day room service was implemented facility-wide—is a date etched in Almeida’s memory. To develop the program from the outset, Sodexho was hired as consultant. “They’ll tell you it’s a hard transition for employees since you’re turning foodservice upside down,” Almeida says. “They warned us that some employees wouldn’t make the transition since you’re turning [many of] them into short order cooks. But they all adapted and we didn’t lose any employees.”

Room service is available from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week. About 1,350 trays are delivered each day to all 567 patients in 49 different locations within the seven-building complex. “Prior to [the implementation of] room service, we were in the 50th percentile in Press Ganey,” he says. “Now we’re in the 98th percentile regarding ‘quality of food’ and we’re in the 96th percentile in ‘overall meals.’”

Satisfaction guaranteed: From day one of the room service planning process, Almeida and his management team kept the foodservice staff involved and informed. Once a week a rotation of four staff members visited a smaller hospital nearby doing room service. “When they came back, they said, ‘Yes, we could do that here,’” Almeida explains.

“Overall, there’s been a 3% to 5% decrease in food cost, but there’s been a 15% to 20% increase in labor costs since we had to add 20 FTEs. The whole hospital’s [Press Ganey] score is now in the 96th percentile. We’re proud [of that increase] since we were the first ‘patient satisfaction initiative’ undertaken in the hospital to go live.”

Catering special events provides ongoing opportunities for Almeida, who prides himself and his catering chef and staff of three in being unique and in never doing the same thing twice, to raise the bar for each event. Special events are run as revenue-generators with two-tier pricing—one for the internal customer and the other for the outside customer such as the Chamber of Commerce or the Knights of Columbus.

All events are catered on campus and the Arline and Henry Schwartzman Courtyard—an atrium that seats 750 people for a full sit-down dinner—is “ideal,” he says. “We do a major event about every other month and our employees really get involved—and we get to shine.”

Expensive but worth it: Menus are custom-designed around the function in consultation with each customer, but Almeida makes sure they understand his motto: “We’re good, but we’re not cheap.” Overall, he aims to turn at least a 25% profit per event.

The creation of theme days is not part of the special events staff responsibility, but is willingly handled by the dining room and back-of-the-house employees. Special themes, such as Spanish, Hawaiian or Caribbean Day, feature recipes and costumes provided by the staff—and a live band is frequently hired. Often the event—typically there’s one every four months—becomes a point of pride and good-
natured competition to see whose ethnic theme day generates more revenue for the department.

Competitive edge: “For our Spanish Day, two employees from Puerto Rico came in to prepare special desserts—one at 11 p.m. the night before, the other at 3 a.m. to dish them out and add the garnish,” Almeida notes. “We send thank you letters after each event to those who have made special contributions plus a copy to the hospital’s vice president of operations. We know customer satisfaction increases, our foodservice employees’ satisfaction increases and we see a 15% to 20% sales increase for each major theme day.”

In the months to come, Almeida, an avid golfer with a 15 handicap, will be taking a swing for his department to achieve a national Press Ganey ranking in the 99th percentile. “To do that is a lot of work,” he asserts, “but we know we’re only as good as our last meal. We also know that our ceo’s philosophy is: ‘At Robert Wood Johnson, failure is not an option.’”

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion

Risley Dining Room at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., has just become 100 percent gluten-free, 14850.com reports.

For the past two years, the university has slowly phased out gluten in the dining hall’s menu by eliminating it in its stir fries, biscuits and brownies.

Instead of offering gluten-free versions of typical college fare, including pizza and pasta, the dining service team aimed for more sophisticated restaurant-style items.

Along with being gluten-free, Risley is also peanut free and tree-nut free.

The dining room is the second college eatery...

Industry News & Opinion

James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., recently hosted a weeklong program called Weigh the Waste, which aimed to show students how much food gets wasted in dining halls, The Breeze reports.

Throughout the week, students placed food they were about to throw away on a scale located near the trash bins at one of their dining halls. At the end of the week, the school tallied the waste and saw that 817 pounds of food had been wasted.

School officials hope that the annual program, which it’s hosted since 2015, will remind dining hall patrons to only take as much food as...

Industry News & Opinion

The University of Maryland will begin offering weekly specials at all of its dining halls this semester, The Diamond Back reports.

The weekday specials will allow Dining Services to offer past menu items that students miss as well as new dishes students have been requesting, according to a spokesperson.

Students can find out which specials are being offered each week via dining hall table tents as well as through Dining Services’ social media. During select weeks, the specials may reflect a particular theme, such as Taste of the South.

Read the full story via...

Menu Development
salad chicken

Vegetables and grains have stepped into the spotlight, thanks to the “flipping the plate” trend, but protein is still an important part of a balanced diet. Sources including meat, cheese, nuts, and meat alternatives such as tofu and tempeh can and should still be on the plate—albeit as a side dish or topping rather than the main event.

“Whatever we do [as FSDs] needs to be rooted in the culture, and today’s culture is all about healthy eating and plant-focused meals,” says Chris Studtmann, executive chef at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. “A recipe is an idea; culture is...

FSD Resources