At a Glance
- Students served per day: 2,000-2,500
- Students on meal plans: 2,550
- Foodservice staff: 135 full and part-time
- Meals served per day: 3,500-3,750
Robert Floccari has enhanced the foodservice offerings at York College of Pennsylvania by:
- Swapping out frozen and premade products for meals created from scratch using fresh ingredients.
- Overseeing a $2.5 million modernization of York’s main dining hall—the first dining hall renovation on campus.
- Increasing sales by 15% annually, from $4.25 million in 2010 to $5.8 million in fiscal 2014, and growing the number of non-mandatory meal plans sold on campus.
The summer of 2014 marked a major milestone for Robert Floccari’s tenure as director of dining for Chartwells at York College of Pennsylvania, in York, Pa. It was the first renovation of the college’s main dining hall in its 46-year history.
The renovation, which began the day after commencement, lasted up until the day before student orientation, when contractors were still adding finishing touches and clearing out their equipment.
“We were knocking on the doors telling them we needed to get in,” Floccari says.
Last August, the remodeled Johnson Dining Hall officially opened its doors and Floccari’s staff was ready to serve 3,000 meals to returning students.
As students entered Johnson Dining Hall, they could view menu options from flat screen TVs placed throughout the dining area and select freshly prepared items from multiple serving stations. As part of the dining hall’s open-kitchen design, most of the kitchen’s equipment was moved out into each station so that staff could work more efficiently and students could watch as staff prepared each day’s specialties.
“Everybody was extremely excited about having a new facility,” Floccari says. “It was long overdue. “
Focus on the food
The dining hall’s modernization exemplifies what Floccari has done to improve the quality of food and service for students and faculty.
Since his arrival at York in 2010, Floccari has shaken up the standard operating procedures and elevated the dining experience across the campus’ five dining facilities by using fresh ingredients, ensuring cohesive food preparation guidelines in all units and providing skills training for staff.
A significant step in upgrading the quality of food was transitioning from pre-made or frozen products to using fresh ingredients to prepare items in-house; for example, all cakes and 50% of all salad dressings are now made from scratch. Floccari designated which canned or frozen items could be replaced with fresh products and steadily made the switch, keeping staff updated as product changes were implemented.
“If you’re willing to invest the time to show people that it can be done and how to do it, you can make those changes happen,” he says.
Consistency was another goal of the new director. When Floccari arrived at York, he noticed that managers at each dining facility—two dining halls and three retail shops—often didn’t communicate with each other or set overall objectives. He wanted to change this by making sure that the foodservices management team understood department goals and gave a consistent message and guidelines to their staffs.
Floccari listened to any concerns that staff had about the changes to food preparation and presentation and addressed challenges by being open to new suggestions by staff.
“I was making sure that [management] was communicating and working with staff to help move the program forward,” he says.
Another way Floccari kept staff on the same page was to provide cross training on food preparation and presentation skills to staff members who wanted to brush up on certain techniques or learn new ones.
“We focused on building skills of staff members so that they not only knew their particular job, they knew how to do anything that we needed them to do,” he says.
His staff appreciates his dedication to helping them improve upon the services that they provide to students.
“He’s brought a lot of creativity and has been very innovative,” says Nina Greiman, residential dining manager. “We have a lot of people who have been here for a long time, and he was very good at presenting change. So he led people through the change, which has been a huge help.”
Floccari listens to his staff’s suggestion for new ideas but also actively seeks input from students and faculty. His staff strengthened its relationships with students by developing a foodservice committee, which allows students to voice any concerns or ideas that they have regarding the foodservice program.
“We tell them, ‘Don’t be afraid to stop in,’” Floccari says. “‘We’d rather you come in and let us know when something needs to be addressed.’”
Faculty members’ insight also is taken into consideration.
“The college president, who started last year, eats [here] at least once a week,” he says. “She’s always a good sounding board to let us know what she likes.”
Assembling a team
As a nearly 20-year veteran of the foodservice industry, Floccari plays an instrumental role in guiding his staff, based on his own experiences in the kitchen. But he also empowers his management team to use their judgment in the kitchen.
It’s not uncommon to see Floccari helping out his staff on the line during a busy service. “He’s in the kitchen with a knife in his hand with his apron on,” says Michael Long, director of operations. “He’s very hands on when you need help and hands off when you don’t. He trusts you to make a decision.”
Floccari takes pride in showing his team that there are just as many opportunities to be creative within the non-commercial side of the foodservice industry as there are within the restaurant world.
“When [chefs] think about college foodservice, they don’t fully understand what the capabilities are. I think we do food just as good, if not better, than a lot of restaurants. We’re just doing it on a much greater volume.”
Enhanced dining experience
The renovation of the main dining hall was an opportunity for Floccari’s staff to bring the cooking out front and focus on food presentation to help enrich students’ dining experience. Instead of placing prepared foods in traditional steamtable pans, the staff uses metal serving vessels that help make the food look more aesthetically appealing to students. Changes like this helped the department to change the traditional cafeteria mindset—especially for incoming students.
“That was always a challenge for us, getting students in their first year, trying to break them away from thinking of this as a cafeteria,” Greiman says.
The renovation also expanded on the amount and variety of cooking equipment that was at the staff’s disposal and has allowed them to test a variety of preparation methods more readily. “If we wanted to do any type of sautéing before, we were out front with some little burners,” Floccari says. “We now have two stations with four burners, which was what we had in the whole back kitchen.”
In addition to the dining hall renovation, Floccari opened the campus’ first coffee shop, in 2012. Prior to the coffee shop’s unveiling, students and faculty used a self-serve coffee cart that included coffee carafes and pastries that foodservice staff would replenish.
The cart was there “out of convenience so that we could [provide] coffee to that side of campus,” Floccari says.
The shop still includes many grab-and-go items, but customers also can get made-to-order coffee drinks and relax in a small seating area. “It’s much more inviting,” he says.
While the upgrades were not necessarily game changers, Floccari’s focus on great food and service has spurred increased sales and traffic among students and staff.
When the main dining hall reopened for the Fall 2014 semester, Floccari’s staff churned out 20,000 meals in the first week. (The weekly average between both campus dining halls is 23,000.)
In the first two months, Floccari says that the number of meals served per week increased by 5%, compared with the previous year. For the semester as a whole, participation rose 2.5%. The department also saw an increase in cash and credit sales, as well as in the amount of voluntary meal plans that are purchased by students even as enrollment has declined, Floccari says. Overall, the campus upgrades have resulted in a 15% increase in sales year over year.
‘Run your business every day’
Aside from increasing sales and voluntary meal plans, Floccari also guided his staff to be proactive about controlling inventory and planning menus. Keeping tabs on inventory and staffing needs on a regular basis allows his staff to be nimble and keep costs in line by making menu adjustments based on what products are on hand.
“One of my favorite sayings for my management team is, ‘Don’t step over quarters to pick up pennies,’” Floccari says. “I tell the staff, ‘Run your business every day. Look at what’s in your refrigerators, look at what is going on and if you need to make changes, let’s plan it and make menu changes before we lose product.’ There is no magical solution other than focusing on the program and providing good food and good service.”