Foodservice Operation of the Month

As staffing and supply remain tight, streamlining operations can be the answer

With mass vaccination programs underway, operators still face pandemic-related challenges.
Geisinger staff
Photo courtesy of Geisinger Health

Even as mass vaccination programs inspire hope that COVID-19 will be under control in the U.S. this year, foodservice operators are still facing pandemic-related challenges, including supply limitations and staffing woes.

However, the opportunity to streamline, cross-utilize products and standardize menus across campuses has been a COVID-era silver lining, says Steve Cerullo, senior director of foodservice at Geisinger Health in Danville, Pa.

Here are Cerullo’s best tips for simplifying operations and restoring a bit of sanity just when it’s needed most.

Start with the low-hanging fruit: the inventory database.

Geisinger had lots of plans for the recipes and menus across its 14 foodservice locations. But to get there, they had to start by winnowing down their options. Over time, the health system’s ingredient database had ballooned to more than 3,000 SKUs, and the team knew much of it was outdated. It didn’t make sense to wade through ingredients no longer in use or those added a while back for one-off or specialty cases like catering and social events.

The team, including Executive Chef Matthew Cervay, pored over the SKUs and pruned the list by more than one-third. “There are still plenty of options for our site managers to select from,” Cerullo says. “But sometimes it’s OK to have five options instead of 15. And now, we know when we look in our database, it’s stuff we actually use.”

Identify multi-purpose ingredients.

As part of its inventory pruning, Geisinger recognized the team could better cross-utilize items not just between patient and retail recipes, but within the retail operations themselves.

After all, stations like deli, grill and pizza can easily share vegetables, proteins and other ingredients.

“It’s really helped us make smarter purchasing decisions, using COVID as a reason to stop and reinvest our energy,” Cervay says. “Especially with staffing shortages, it just made sense to streamline as much as possible.”

Standardize offerings, while building in some flexibility.

When traveling to Geisinger’s various locations in Pennsylvania, Cerullo noted a lot of variance in the offerings. For example, each of the system’s eight major facilities has a deli, each with its own spin. One deli’s sandwich greens were iceberg lettuce, while another served spinach; one had diced pickles and another had sliced.

“What we built was a core,” Cerullo says. “We went to our smallest site to figure out what they could offer, and we built our basic deli around that. So now we have certain proteins, spreads and toppings that each deli offers—and the larger sites have the flexibility to add onto that from a preselected toolbox of options.”

That not only streamlines inventory and expectations from the operational side, but also improves the customer experience. Cerullo says that Geisinger once sold all manner of pizzas across the campuses, with some serving 7-inch personal pizzas, others dishing out 10-inch, and still others baking a regular 16-inch and selling slices. Sauces and toppings varied, too. But no longer.

“We have so many employees who work across the system, and if I go to my site in Scranton and have a pizza and love it, and then I go to Danville and it’s totally different, that’s not a great experience for me,” Cerullo says. “Consistency helps both us and the people we serve.”

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