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From: Food Quality & Safety magazine, August/September 2008

Get the Edge in the Race for Food Quality Gold

Score a perfect 10 while cutting food and supply costs

by Brienna J. Pinnow

Cutting food service costs while maintaining high food quality, optimum customer service, and happy employees is a goal of nearly every food service establishment, from restaurants to retirement communities. Recently, Legacy Retirement Communities, in Lincoln, Neb., decided this was a goal they were ready to pursue. Now, with the guidance of national dining consultants Don Miller and Associates, Legacy’s dining services have cut costs by six figures, transformed a weekly resident pre-order approach into a tableside, made-to-order service, and maintained high food quality. But how are they doing it, and what can your food service department do to control costs, too?

The Overall Goal

“We have a proprietary process called destination 10, based on the Olympic scoring system,” says chef John Giambarresi, executive director for the senior fine dining division of Don Miller and Associates. “Basically, we have many types of processes to improve team building, personal relationships, cooking skills, and service skills that bring the food services division to a 10, a symbol of excellence and perfection. After three to six months, the food and nutrition department usually becomes the model division for the entire company.”

Known nationally in the health care and hospitality industries for their food consulting expertise, Don Miller and Associates provides its clients with the information, knowledge, training, and tools they need, not only to improve food quality and presentation but also to control their operational costs.

“I want the best life for my residents,” says Jerry Joyce, owner and founder of the Legacy Retirement Communities. “At the Legacy, we have a ‘slight edge’ philosophy. This means we always want to have the slight edge on our competition, which forces us to push ourselves and outperform our competition. Not only did I want to control our spending, but more importantly, I wanted to take the dining services to the next level since it’s such a big part of the residents’ lives.”

Joyce and Robert Darrah, food services director for the Legacy Retirement Communities, agreed that Don Miller and Associates’ destination 10 philosophy matched their own and decided that a partnership would be ideal.

And the results? “The dining services are excellent,” says Legacy resident Ali Jalinek. “We’ve traveled a lot over the years. We’ve met a lot of people and tried plenty of foods. But nothing compares to the wonderful bunch that works here and the food they serve.”

Overcoming Budget Challenges

Like most departments in the food service and hospitality industries, the Legacy’s dining service faces a fluctuating commodity market. Skyrocketing food and supply costs and unstable prices for overall food service have made maintaining a budget a challenge. Prices in a normal year may change from 4% to 9%; this year, food prices have fluctuated as high as 42%.

So what tools is Legacy using to battle this challenge? Darrah says there are plenty of tools Legacy’s consultants have incorporated into the department in order to maintain their budget.

“By using tracking tools developed in conjunction with our consultants and coaches at Don Miller and Associates, we are able to tell the quantity of items we use each meal, day, and week. Our forecasting is very efficient, enabling us to control over-portioning, overproduction, and excess waste,” adds Darrah.

The Legacy has also reduced costs by utilizing new negotiation and bargaining tactics with their suppliers and vendors. By purchasing a certain type of product such as meat from one supplier exclusively, for example, they have been able to brand their menu, purchase in bulk, reduce deliveries, and waive fuel charges—all leading to cost savings.

In addition to providing forecasting and bargaining tactics, Don Miller has also helped Legacy to analyze the types of foods being used and find more efficient ways to prepare them.

Giambarresi says that when analyzing the food used by an operation, Don Miller looks at which foods can be made on site. “By analysis of products purchased, we develop ways to fabricate the product in a traditional manner. This means we can increase food quality and labor while decreasing food costs. It could be something as simple as using an employee to prepare fresh green beans instead of purchasing canned green beans,” he says.

Additionally, extensive recipe development has allowed the Legacy to begin using a single product for multiple applications. “For example, instead of purchasing baked, fried, and fajita chicken, we now purchase one specific size chicken breast that can be used in multiple dishes,” Darrah says. “We reduce costs by purchasing more of that product in bulk, and we also improve quality by learning new recipes and culinary techniques to flavor and prepare more exciting dishes. This is especially important since we serve a captive audience every day of the year. We want our residents and guests to believe that we are the best of the best.”

Ensuring Quality

According to author, motivational speaker, and renowned food service director Carlton Green, PhD, “Quality starts with purchasing quality, but you don’t have to pay premium prices.” Years ago, while serving as food services director for the University of California at Los Angeles Medical Center, Dr. Green reduced the budget by $11 million with no reduction in staff. By simply changing the type of ham purchased, for instance, Dr. Green was able to save the department $37,000 a year. Switching to a different type of straw saved another $16,000. Dr. Green also believes that using forecasting, looking for ways to reduce waste at all times, and learning to cook in small batches throughout the meal time helps operations cut costs.

Now, Dr. Green believes Legacy is setting the standard for retirement communities, their leaders, and their food service departments on a national level. “I spent five years working at a very large, upscale retirement community,” says Dr. Green. “But when I visited the Legacy Retirement Communities, they absolutely blew me away. The physical properties were immaculate, but it was the staff that made a difference.”

Taking Notice

Recently, Don Miller and Associates held its annual Good to Best Conference in San Diego. At the event, Darrah received the gold medal for “Biggest Cost Savings Without Reducing Food Quality or Reducing Staff.”

“The success of our new approach to dining services is off the chart,” says Joyce. “Since redesigning everything from our menus to our service style, residents and their guests tell me that our food and service is the best-kept secret in town. Many people compare eating here to a five-star dining experience.”

Giambarresi agrees. “At Don Miller and Associates, we recognize the fact that in a retirement community setting, the food quality and presentation is just as important as the rooms and amenities. Restaurant style dining, such as in a five-star hotel, is what this age group expects and wants,” Giambarresi says. “And that is what the Legacy is providing.”

Darrah has also been selected as a member of the board of directors of Don Miller and Associates’ 2009 Conference. In this role, he will provide major input into the three-day conference’s curriculum and overall strategic planning.

“We are constantly striving to reach the 10 level in all that we do,” Darrah adds. “We want to be the top retirement community in the nation in regards to food service and quality. We want people to say, ‘You should taste the food at that place.’ And I believe we’ve arrived at that culinary destination.”

Pinnow is a marketing consultant with the Pickering Creative Group. Reach her at brienna@pickeringcreative.com or (402) 423-5447. For more information, contact Don Miller and Associates at (619) 656-2100.

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