Bernadette Ventura


by Bernadette Ventura, FMP
Senior Associate
Washington, DC Office

Many of us might remember the business model where companies managed all aspects of their firms, even when they were not a part of their core business, such as foodservice, mail services, janitorial services and so on. However, today it’s much more common to hear “My job was outsourced” than “I started in the mail room.”

For a long time, corporations have outsourced functions like building janitorial and foodservices to companies who specialize in those services. Towards the latter part of the 20th century, more and more companies abandoned the “self-op” model for other non-core functions like mail and copy services, archives, reception services and a host of others – in favor of turning the operations of those ancillary or support services over to companies with expertise in those fields. But who manages all of those outsourced suppliers?

In the early days of outsourced foodservice, there was a “foodservice liaison” – someone who had actual foodservice experience and knew the ins and outs of F&B operations – assigned to oversee the foodservice vendor. But that role has changed. In the case of large corporations, especially those expanding overseas, the foodservice liaison has become a dedicated person with oversight for many foodservice outlets across the nation and/or globe. In other cases, one liaison has taken on oversight responsibilities for foodservice, conference, mail, fitness, reception, security, facilities and other services. Oftentimes, the liaison has little or no experience in many of the contracted services they are overseeing. In all cases, the new “super liaison” has a full plate!

So how does the new “super liaison” monitor performance of multiple locations and/or suppliers in a way that is not counterproductive to outsourcing? How does he or she ensure that Service Level Agreements are maintained and that the suppliers are running the business in the best interest of the host company without micromanaging the supplier?

Customer satisfaction – either internal or external – is one way to measure supplier performance. Periodic (annual or bi-annual) satisfaction surveys are a tried and true approach, though electronic feedback mechanisms have also become popular for immediate customer commentary. The creation of an internal Facebook page and other social media forums allowing running commentary from “customers” is one of the newest approaches.

There are other components of supplier performance though. Expectations should be delineated in each contract, so knowing the contract terms is a very critical responsibility of the liaison. A scorecard system can be developed to assess performance on defined factors. Issues such as quality, safety, and sanitation must be reviewed regularly and to do so requires visual site inspections. Marketing, merchandising, financial and statistical achievements also must be reviewed regularly, but can be monitored more easily from a distance. To ease the burden of managing multiple vendors in diverse functional areas, the liaison can develop a calendar staggering the performance reviews.

It’s important to remember the purpose of the outsourcing to begin with – to shed duties that are not the company’s core business or core skill set. So if managing multiple contracts is not something appropriate for your company, you might consider hiring one company to manage that for you. Feel free to ask me more about how Cini-Little might be able to help through our Virtual Liaison service.

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by Bernadette Ventura, FMP
Senior Associate
Washington, DC Office

Long gone (I hope) are the days of college meal plans with cafeteria tray lines – and all that they conjure up like meatloaf, instant mashed potatoes, overcooked peas and cubed Jell-O.  Campus dining has come a long way to match the real-world expectations of the consumer-savvy student of today.  The traditional board plan with its “all-you-care-to-eat” dining halls still exists, but in many cases resides alongside standalone retail outlets and food courts. 

Colleges have had to look at ways in which students could partake in these popular food courts within the confines of the traditional board plan.  Many board plans now include some amount of “flex dollars” or “equivalency value,” both of which can be used at dining outlets other than the board dining rooms and sometimes even in c-stores and other retail outlets.

Consumers have a way of pushing the envelope with their desires driving new concepts, and college students are no different.  In the college environment, which naturally fosters a communal, sharing atmosphere, students want the ability to be with friends and classmates in the dining destination of their choice.  So where will this push the college meal plan next?

I was recently asked to think about solutions for a client that wants to combine the typical board dining hall and the more contemporary food court in the same space – with no delineation!   This is exactly the paradigm shift needed to allow full interaction of all students, with no boundaries caused by meal plans.  I bounced a few ideas around with colleagues as to how this might work, and here’s what I think is the most simple and streamlined solution:  A stored value system where everything is priced à-la-carte (including “meal deals”) in both traditional dining halls and food courts – no matter where the meal comes from.  Incentives such as discounts (%) or “bonus dollars” could be applied based on the amount deposited on the stored value device (card, FOB, etc.) or by some other method. 

What are some of the implications of such a departure from traditional thinking on the topic?  From the operator perspective, it could be argued that the revenue stream will be adversely impacted in that the missed meal factor would no longer exist.  However, this would be a good challenge (opportunity) for operators to continuously improve on food quality and choices.  Further, It could be said that the missed meal plan balances may have a positive impact in that the elimination of the traditional “all-you-care-to-eat” program will reduce “overtaking” or “overeating” for one price (including taking food out to eat later or feed friends).

For the college itself, such a program could also impact the revenue stream.  There are solutions for this too, though. For example, the college could retain a certain percent of the stored value, or simply be paid a commission on dining service sales.  In some cases, colleges are already paid a commission from dining services if they are contractor-operated.  In those situations, the commission program could be reevaluated and redefined to include an additional percent on stored value program sales.

For the student, this might mean balancing their food budgets and food intake, but shouldn’t part of the college experience be to ready young adults to function in the real world?  Still, even this is not an insurmountable issue.  A daily or weekly spending limit could be placed on stored value cards to help train the student to budget.

Finally, if I were a parent sending my child to college, and if all other things were equal, I would choose the educational institution that defined a dining program in the stored value fashion, particularly those that offered incentives.  Meal plans are typically expensive for the parent/student and are oftentimes underused (missed meal factor) and a stored value program would tell me that the college cares about providing value to me in all areas.

The technology is out there and the possibilities are endless.  Perhaps it’s time to take the college meal plans to the next level. In my research, I came across one University that follows a similar model in dining services.  It seems to me that this will be the shape of the future of higher education meal plans – student satisfaction, variety, and control, creating a real-world system, while eliminating abuse and waste.