By:  Ronald P. Kooser, FFCSI
CEO –  Cleveland Office

Johnny asks:  Why can’t I have an ATV, like all the other kids?

Suzy asks: Why can’t I have a pony like Jane?

In response, Johnny might get asked: “Johnny, will you take care of the ATV, provide fuel, maintain it, buy insurance? And where will you store it?” or Suzy gets asked: “Suzy, will you take care of the pony, clean the stall, buy feed, pay for the vet, etc.? And where will you keep it?”

Similarly, I hear from smaller facilities like 150 bed hospitals and 900 student colleges: “Why can’t I have a cafeteria like University hospital with 1,000 beds, or like State University with 40,000 students?”

It does seem similar, doesn’t it, when we receive requests from clients who all want Pizza made to order with hearth oven, a Deli made-to-order station, Salads made/assembled rather than a self-service salad bar, Pasta Station with ingredients assembled for each customer, Grilled sandwich made to order, etc.

And my response is similar too:  “Can you afford it? And do you have space for it?”  These features all take more space, and more labor, and more utility resulting in higher capital and operating costs.

Yet, foodservice is no longer a minor amenity to the building, no matter the population count. Colleges and hospitals are using foodservice to establish a high quality image.  Foodservice is also used for recruiting and retention, at both types of institutions.  In terms of justifying an investment by the ROI (Return On Investment), we have to ask: what is the return?  It might not be actual dollars, but rather more the human resources benefits. These intangibles sometimes justify the added expense by maintaining competitiveness in the marketplace, improving visitor, student and employee satisfaction, reducing staff turnover, reducing time away from the institution seeking other alternatives, and so forth.

Since it is difficult to put a dollar return to these benefits, we need to consider all avenues for reducing the costs.  Can stations be combined to reduce labor? Can hoods be minimized to reduce both capital and operating expenses?  We continue to evaluate until we reach that pivotal point where the facility best meets the needs of the client at a price the client can afford.

Of course, all this works best when the process is collaborative with the architects and engineers on the team.  Admittedly, they often enter the project with the perception that this will be the “typical” cafeteria operation for a smaller facility. Understanding the client’s broader objectives with the foodservice operation, we work with the design team to explain that more space and budget dollars will be needed than they have allocated.

All of these issues make the consultant’s job for the smaller facilities a real challenge, but that is what Cini•Little does:  collaborative partnering to plan functional and successful facilities.

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