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Reading Hospital's Marge Kipe looks back on her foodservice career

Marge Kipe came to Reading Hospital in West Reading, Pa., as a clinical dietitian in 1977. Since then, she has held numerous roles on the nutrition and dietetics team, finally becoming the hospital’s foodservice director, a position she’s held since 1987. Marge Kipe

This year, she plans to retire. FoodService Director talked to her about how her role has evolved through the years and what tips she has for other operators.

Q: How has your role as foodservice director changed over the years?

Back in the day, when you came in the morning you had to call vendors and you had to make sure there would be food for tomorrow’s menu. Everything was very manual, and you were very much involved in what was happening at the cooking level. Gradually with technology, and certainly with the growth of the hospital and the growth of the health system over the years, the position grew and grew to where it is now. Where back then we might have been serving a half a million meals per year, it is now 2.8 million meals a year. We’ve got systems that we could not have even dreamed of 42 years ago. If you had told me back then that I’d finish my career by installing robots to do room service, I would’ve looked at you like you were from “Star Trek.”

Q: How has the introduction of the robots worked out?

That was probably one of the biggest gambles of my career. It was a calculated gamble. We did our homework. We did our ROI. And we did our research. But it was not an easy sell. It turns out it has been just awesome. I actually ran the benchmarking numbers, and I was looking at labor costs—meals per man hour in the Association for Healthcare Foodservice benchmarking—and just kind of how it’s trending over time to see where we fall. Ever since those robots have been implemented, we consistently have been in the 25th percentile for costs per man hour.

Q: What tips do you have for other operators?

It’s all about excellence. Don’t ever settle. Perfection may not be attainable, but excellence is. Otherwise you end up being substandard. There’s no reason why you can’t be the best. Strive for maintaining something that’s clean and well-organized and making sure your staff is happy, and that they have the tools they need to get the job done. Otherwise you’ll just be mediocre.

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