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.’”

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