Ronald Kooser


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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Shared by:  Ron Kooser, FFCSI
Chief Executive Officer
Cleveland Office

You can just ask anyone who has gone through a multi phased/multi year construction project and they will question the savings, as they, and the staff has gone through h…….  But, they will also say it was a learning experience, if done properly with the thorough planning that is necessary.  If the project team is doing their job the operators will be thinking of issues they never would have considered and the end result will be a better operation for the process.

Yes we saved over $1,000,000.00 dollars at Mass General when we did the cafeteria project, but they were fortunate to have a space large enough to create a temporary facility to serve a limited menu.  In fact it was so successful people didn’t want them to shut it down.  It does show how you can be creative and accomplish a plus when negatives are perceived.  They created the Hard Hat Café, using plastic construction helmets for the staff, bare hanging light bulbs (I know about health department issues), ladders and work horses to support tables, portable food shields, and fun menu items.

Of course phasing the construction of a kitchen is another issue. This is especially challenging in hospitals, where foodservice never stops, and educational facilities where the down time for construction can be very limited.

This is when pre-planning with a project team that understands the operational requirement of the kitchen is essential.  It is also critical to have the engineers and architects on the same page of planning as it is not a simple manner to shut down an area, seal it off from other areas with dust screens and keep on operating.  Many times, in fact most times, interrupting service utilities while shutting down one area also shuts down an adjacent area.  Will it be necessary to create temporary utilities to allow this process to occur?  This may very well be the case, and what does this do to the budget?  These types of unforeseen costs can balloon the project cost out of reality, and if they occur after construction has already started can cost jobs.  Administration, or management, does not appreciate these surprises.

There has to be adequate time, and fees allocated for this critical phase, to look at all of the possible options.  Time and money needs to be available to evaluate the construction costs for each option, as well as the operating costs.  When you shut down the dish room for a period of time, and utilize all disposable ware, what is that cost.  If you have to switch some menu items to purchased/convenience foods what does that do to the costs.  Do these costs become part of the project construction budget, or are they just increased operating costs?

Is it worth purchasing, or leasing temporary equipment to minimize the length of time of a phase?  Often it is worth renting refrigerated trucks to be utilized while replacing old in efficient walk ins.  Can food be purchased from another facility in the area rather than by convenience foods?  Can the menu be reduced during phases? Can the schedule be phased to have work done in slower calendar periods?  Educational institutions obviously take advantage of summer schedules, but are there summer programs that are impacted.  Hospitals, depending on their location, or types of service might have slower times than others.  Corporate dining operations might be able to set up tents for summer picnics, or cook outside.

There are many options that need to be considered in the phasing of a foodservice construction project.  Pre-planning cannot be overemphasized, and the time and money to do it thoroughly comes back in many ways, including the sanity of the staff that has to live with it every day.

And of course all of this has to be coordinated with the health department.