Why did you decide to become a CDM?
First, I’d like to say that I’m honored to be considered for this award – thank you! I was recruited from the hospitality industry by Bethany to completely recreate the dining experience from a hospitality perspective. I’ll admit, it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. The senior living environment was a new world to me, so I wanted to learn more about the industry and the people I was serving. I completed my education through the University of North Dakota – great program!
What are your main responsibilities in your current position?
I’m a Senior Director on our Executive Management team. So, my first obligation is contributing to our organization’s overall success and growth. We are in the home stretch of completing a $30M campus expansion/renovation project that we started designing back in 2013. Watching our blueprints “come to life” is a real thrill. Outside of that, I am responsible for all aspects of our Dining Services department: vision/design, strategic planning, department programming, budgeting, marketing, staffing, concept and menu/recipe development, food and equipment purchasing, compliance/food safety and sanitation, QAPI initiatives, nutrition and care planning, and everyone’s favorite… MDS’s. I lead an upbeat team of 50 and am fortunate to have 3 amazing managers and an excellent dietician. They keep me on my toes.
How do you organize your time at work to make sure you accomplish all your responsibilities?
Great question. Planning is everything. It’s all about time management and prioritizing. If you want to be successful, you can’t afford to be inefficient. Communication is huge. Meetings are important but keep them focused and effective. These will consume your work week if you’re not careful. I always complete all necessary tasks at the beginning of each week (e.g. place all our food orders on Monday, complete MDS’s and care plans on Tuesday, post schedules on Wednesday, etc.). My goal is to leave myself with a day or two at the end of the week to dive into some projects and miscellaneous items stacking up on me. As I’m sure you all are aware, that time disappears real fast. Delegating and keeping tabs on their efficiency is also key. We have daily checklists and cleaning schedules for all of our staff, and routine task guides for managers. We’ve also created and utilize a catering system to stay on top of events and functions. We don’t like surprises (not that kind anyway). Oh, and I live off the calendar on my tablet and Post-it notes.
What is an example of an innovative way you have made change at your facility and how did you implement it?
We have changed everything. I have completely rebuilt the Dining Department from the ground up. There is nothing that hasn’t been streamlined and updated. The result is a complete dining transformation that is now delivering a superb dining experience to all our residents, families/guests, staff, and community daily. In fact, I was recently informed that we were named the NFEF’s Foodservice Department of the Year, so we’re pretty fired-up about that! These changes were all possible because of our CEO’s vision and the support from our Board of Directors. They brought me in, put their faith in me and turned me loose to do my thing.
I began by interviewing residents and staff, then developed that into a vision of what we wanted our new foodservice program to look like here at Bethany. We were fortunate enough to have some money to invest into redesigning old and designing new dining/food production areas, but the biggest changes didn’t cost a thing.
Liberalizing diets and developing new chef-driven menus have had a huge impact – both free. We implemented opening dining times. This cost nothing and it helped by thinning out our normal meal service “rush”. The improvement in food quality certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed, but I believe the biggest change has been with staffing. When I started, I had staff train me in on each position in the department. While doing so, I made a list of all the foodservice department tasks that took place in a day for us to operate. I then divided this, very large, list into two separate lists (one for “kitchen” tasks and the other for “service” tasks). From there I restructured and created all new job positions for the department. We only staff cooks, servers, hosts and dish washers. After figuring out our meal service plan, we could easily create daily staff checklists, while ensuring that all of the original department tasks were accounted for. For implementation, we used the same formula as above: good planning, good communication, and prompt adjustments.
I invested a lot of time training staff. Holding regular meetings leading up to all major changes. I always work the floor alongside them whenever we’re launching something new. Getting “buy-in” is also very helpful. Staff and residents have a lot of great ideas. Get them involved in the decision-making process early on and let them be a part of it.
What was your first job in the foodservice industry?
Right after I turned 14 I landed a job as a dish washer at a country club. I enjoyed it. That was the start of my career in foodservice. From there I worked my way up, working every different position along the way, and then up through management. I believe that this experience has been key to my success. I can relate with my staff and it helps me to better understand all the pieces that make-up the big picture. I think my staff respects that. Often you can find me on the floor helping: cooking, serving, hosting, running food, executing events, and even getting back to my roots in the dish room on occasion.
Who has been your biggest mentor in foodservice and how have they helped shape your career?
Mark Hermann, former General Manager of Timber Lodge Steakhouse. I love that guy. I learned a ton from him. He truly was a great leader. He saw potential and invested in me. He took me off the floor and developed me into a manager. He really taught me a lot about managing foodservice operations and staff, and about customer service. Mark, if you’re reading this – thanks, Big Guy.
What are the biggest challenges you face in your position and how do you handle them?
The CDM role, or any department head, is certainly a challenge. Simultaneously managing staff, operations, finances, resident/guest satisfaction, quality initiatives, and nutrition and care is not easy. It’s not all “glitz and glam”, as I say to my managers (which they’re probably tired of hearing), but that’s part of the gig. Aside from the day-to-day adventures, I think the biggest challenges I face are self-inflicted. I have very high expectations, perhaps too high at times. We push ourselves and we challenge each other. How can we do this better? What if we tried it this way? What do you guys think of this idea? We’re constantly trying to improve. In regards to handling it, we have created a culture where change is welcome. Establishing that culture wasn’t easy and took some time, but it’s paying off now. To sustain that culture, we’re very open about this with potential staff during the interview process. More specifically, I would say my number one challenge currently is transitioning through this renovation project. Good planning, good communication, and prompt adjustments get the job done.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I’m going to cheat and list two favorites here. First, I love interacting with the residents and their families/guests. I can see the positive impact these dining enhancements have made on our residents’ quality of life. It is very rewarding. I realized this early on. The families are always so thankful. I used to cater a lot of weddings. It was always nice seeing a happy bride and groom, or happy customers in one of our restaurants but this is different. I regularly join residents at their tables in our dining rooms and just chat away with them – it’s nice. My other favorite part is watching our staff develop. We have a lot of impressive younger staff and students who work for us. Recently we created and opened a new chef-driven, fast-casual restaurant, called the Bleu Barn – Rustic Recipe Co. We selected and trained a small group of our students to run it, most of them having no prior cooking experience. I know, kind of scary, right? Well, the launch could not have went any better and thanks to them and this new restaurant, we’re on pace to set our organization’s new all-time record high meal sales. I’m very proud of them and it’s a joy watching them learn and grow. It feels great to play a part in that.
How do you stay up to date with current innovations and trends?
Industry publications, educational events, and Google. I do a lot of research. Our major food vendors (Sysco and Martin Bros. Distributing) have also been great resources. I like to think that we are at the forefront of innovation and dining trends in our industry. I have surrounded myself with a great team of hospitality professionals and we do a lot of “out of the box” thinking. Someone is always coming up with a new great idea. Yesterday we started shrink-wrapping Wood Stone par-baked frozen pizzas and today we sold out of them already. Then we joked about what we were going to come up with next week. We have created that culture. We are open to change and now the sky is the limit.
How do you envision the foodservice industry in the next few years and foodservice?
I believe that the hospitality model we have created at Bethany is the future of healthcare dining: liberalized diets, chef-driven menus, choice dining service, multiple dining locations, waiter-style table service, a quick-serve option, open dining times, bar/lounges, ice cream/snack shops, hotel-style room service, etc. It’s coming, and it’s coming soon. This is going to become the expectation from the new population entering aging services, and it will only continue to trend in that direction. I think that healthcare communities are going to have to enhance their dining program if they want to remain competitive.
What is your advice to those just getting started in the foodservice industry?
Work with/for good people and find yourself a good mentor. Working with talented people will rub off on you. Foodservice managers are always on the lookout for good help. If you’re dependable and ambitious, it’s only a matter of time until someone develops you. There are a lot of opportunities out there. Foodservice is a very fun industry to work in and can be a rewarding career. I recommend seriously considering the healthcare industry. It didn’t used to be the most attractive option (I was hesitant at first) but times are changing. Transferring industries turned out to be the best career move that I’ve made. I enjoyed working in restaurants and hotels but they can’t compete with the insurance and benefits, pay, and the flexible hours (e.g. no late nights, some weekends and holidays off, etc.). It’s also much more rewarding work. I wish you the best of luck!