Onsite Presenters

RICK JOHNSON

A Flex-Plan Approach to Culinary Excellence

From installing a wood-burning pizza oven to composing a meaningful value statement, the re-engineering of a dining program takes a lot of planning. According to Virginia Tech's Director of Housing and Dining Services Rick Johnson, planning and communication with students were key elements that took the dining program to the top of the Princeton Review “Best College Food” list, and helped the school sell more than 18,000 meal plans.

“By telling students what we're doing, and how we care about them,” he said. “We went from complaints to compliments.”

Johnson said planners found that students are willing to wait for cooked-to-order authenticity. The planning process also included trips to restaurants and state-of-the-art food courts, to see what dining services was up against in the real world.

Another component that gets people talking is the dazzling special events at Virginia Tech. “We see special events as a way to improve our student satisfaction,” Johnson said. “We hear them say, ‘You should've been there last night.’”

(For more on Virginia Tech's program, see the cover story in the June 2008 issue of FM.)

DAVID BINKLE/MARK BAIDA

Revitalizing a Large Urban School Meal Program

The Los Angeles Unified School District faces several challenges. There are 700,000 students, a sprawling distance between schools, and a $500 million deficit.

To begin to revitalize the program, Executive Chef Mark Baida was hired from USC “to put a strong culinary face on the department,” said LAUSD's Deputy Foodservice Director David Binkle.

In the last year, LAUSD's cafeterias have been rebranded, major renovations are underway in more than 100 schools, menus have been re-engineered and production processes have been standardized.

Focus groups consisting of students, stakeholders and community members were formed, with a special emphasis on a student-driven menu. Staff was scrutinized and changes made. Recipes are now carefully documented, and a “Chef's Signature Series” was introduced to energize student interest in the food program.

“We've had a real sense of urgency,” said Binkle. “We need a healthy, vibrant environment that's working towards the future. Ninety percent of heart bypass patients fall back into their old habits. That's not going to happen here.”

WALTER THURNHOFER, RD

Transforming the Patient Meal Experience

Patients in today's hospitals are expecting more. They are well-traveled, well-versed in fine cuisine, and they demand higher quality, better service and better value.

“You could have all the medical technology in the world, but what patients remember is the care and service they receive,” said Walter Thurnhofer, RD, senior director of support services at the University of Washington Medical Cetner, where patient dining has been transformed into one of the hospital's centers for excellence.

What began as large-scale food production where special requests were challenging has made the leap to a place where the focus is on one meal at a time and where room service rules. Much of this was achieved by listening to patients, Thurnhofer said.

“Patients said, ‘Let me choose when I eat; I want lots of variety,’” he said.

Thurnhofer and his team installed a wireless, web-based temperature montioring system to further ensure a quality dining experience.

Other improvements include a patient menu translated into 10 languages, the elimination of the deep fat fryer, and monthly meetings with nurse managers to improve communication.