CDM, CFPP of the Month - September 2015

Joshua Watkins, CDM, CFPP
Name: Joshua Watkins CDM, CFPP

Job Title: Director of Dining Services

Employer: Baptist Retirement Communities of GA

Job Location: Palmetto Park Senior Living in Palmetto, GA

Years at Current Facility:10

Years in Current Position: 2

CDM Since: 2012

Why did you decide to become a CDM, CFPP?

Honestly, I was approached about becoming a CDM, CFPP by my former administrator and Dining Services Director. I am so glad that I was approached. Once I looked into what CDM, CFPP status meant, I knew that it would provide me with opportunities to lead and impact people’s lives in a way that I knew I should be. Even at a young age, food has always been my passion. The most amazing part about becoming credentialed are the people that I have met, the professional/personal growth, and the things I have learned in the past few years. I knew in the beginning that food and nutrition would be a fun, rewarding career. Since stepping into the CDM role at Palmetto Park Senior Living, my current Executive Director and upper level management team has allowed me to develop innovative ideas and teach my team those concepts. Through my knowledge, I have trained my team on ways to transform the dining experience for each senior adult.

What are your main responsibilities in your current position?

My responsibilities are multi-faceted. My typical day consists of overseeing the production and service team’s daily work. Along with these responsibilities, I maintain all of the paperwork side of the job, ordering supplies and groceries, menu planning, dining event planning, introducing new dining trends and organizing parties. One of the most rewarding parts of the job is being able to council with residents that have concerns, compliments or suggestions. Several senior adults have questions or concerns about what is in some of the items that we are showcasing on our menus. In moments like these, I have the opportunity to become more personable with them and share with them some “behind-the-scenes” knowledge about our operation. Another enjoyable part to my job is overseeing the food production. I enjoy this because I can share my knowledge by teaching and demonstrating new items to our production and management team. Fortunately, I get to be very hands on in the kitchen so that helps me to be very personable with my team.

What is an example of an innovative way you have made change at your facility and how did you implement it?

Probably my greatest change since taking on the CDM position at Palmetto Park has been the complete menu change. In addition to our menu change, I was able to slowly upgrade the china and linen table cloths, as well. In regards to the changes on the menu, I was able to change from a cafeteria quality food to an upscale restaurant quality. My team and I were able to begin a lot more from scratch cooking and get rid of a lot of canned ingredients. Our philosophy is “fresh is best”. We begin utilizing individual casserole dishes, china sundae cups for desserts and salads, and new linens to enhance the presentation of the food. Within the last four months, we have received 300-plus positive comments about the changes. Those comments are frequently flowing in from staff, residents and guests. We are always trying to find ways to lead the industry in Palmetto. We have several upcoming ‘major’ changes or new trends sketched out over the coming months that will impact every person within the building in a positive way. In order to lead the industry, you can’t be scared to change. My biggest accomplishment to make innovative changes successful is to prepare each employee. Employees are not scared of change, they are scared of losing things. Once you assure them that they won’t lose anything, things tend to look up. I tell them that I will support them through this change and if one sinks, we all sink.

What was your first job in the foodservice industry?

Uniquely enough, my first job was at Palmetto Park. When I was hired, I was a part-time waiter. Basically, I worked in the dish room, dining room and helped with stock. After high school, I was offered a full-time waiter position. Shortly after working full-time, I moved into a cook’s position. Eventually, after obtaining my CDM, CFPP, I was moved into Director of Dining Services. It’s been a long haul, but I am thankful to have worked every position in dining services at Palmetto Park. It truly is a great company to work for.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your position and how do you handle them?

As I mentioned above, senior residents are sometimes confused by the names that we use for certain menu items. When a resident is confused, sometimes it is a challenge to get them to understand what it consists of and why we have it on the menu. One of the things that I tell them is that we ensure quality and healthy items on each meal so they maintain health and wellness. Another big challenge is keeping the staff engaged and happy with one another. Let’s face it, we are with each other so much that we are like family. As all families do, we may have spats or disagreements sometimes. When these problems arise, I tend to be hard on the problem and not the person. As the old phrase goes, “You catch more flies with honey then with vinegar.” Lastly, another big obstacle is the rising food costs. Sometimes it can be rather difficult to maintain a budget with the rise in food costs. When a particular item is too expensive to make or purchase, I have to find a way to get the same item with quality and as healthy to the table for a fraction of the expensive price. Overall, my team and I work really well on maintaining a healthy, nutritious menu with our budget in place.  

What is your favorite part of your job?

Well, this is a rather tough question for me to answer with one specific answer because I love my job. I find it pure joy to be able to wake up every day and not fret about going to work. From my perspective, I have the best team and upper management that I could ever wish to work with. One of my favorite parts of the job is the chance I have to work in the food. I love to have my hands in the middle of the food preparation. I love being able to share ideas and my team of cooks assists in producing those ideas. Another rewarding part of my job is seeing everyone smile. When a resident gets up from the table smiling I know my job is complete. When they stretch and complain about how full their stomachs are, I can rest easy at night. I am passionate about each person experiencing joy as they dine on our food at Palmetto Park.

How do you stay up to date with current innovations and trends?

The easiest ways for me to stay up-to-date on trends are reviewing trade magazines, watching food television shows and attending conferences with chefs and culinary experts. When I read articles in magazines, I can relate to some of the other CDMs and what they are trying in their facility. It makes the creative part of my brain work. I am able to take someone else’s positives and modify them to fit our family at Palmetto Park. Food television shows such as Masterchef and Chopped provide me with details on how to plate various types of food. Even though we may not serve the particular food, I can reflect on what we serve and how we can modify our plating techniques to give it that ‘resort style’ look. Also, those television programs provide me with ideas on how to help my team grow with their teamwork. Lastly, conferences and trade shows give up-close encounters with some leaders in the industry. There has never been a conference or trade show that I haven’t learned new trends and innovative approaches to take back to my facility and implement. On top of the education from industry leaders at these events, it is a networking opportunity. They provide the opportunity to meet colleagues and professionals that I can connect with via e-mail once I am back in the office or kitchen. I can connect and compare trends and see what worked for them and what did not work for them. Once I learn some of their negatives, I can build off of that for Palmetto Park Senior Living.  

How do you envision the foodservice industry in the next few years and beyond?

I am convinced that the things that are acceptable now will not be acceptable in the coming years. All of the processed food and chemically-enriched foods probably will start fading away in the coming years. What I have noticed over and over again is that people want quality over quantity. People want to know that they are eating foods that are natural and not shot full of hormones, chemicals and pesticides. I believe that the ‘farm to table’ concept is going to continue to lead the food industry over the next 5-10 years. Trust me, I understand that it’s easy to go through the drive-thru and grab a 99-cent burger and fries, but at the end of the day it’s probably not fresh, locally-grown vegetables and grass-fed beef. I think the shift from fast food is going to change vastly. I believe that your fast food restaurants are going to shift to more healthy options, maybe even integrating fresh fruit and locally-grown vegetables and salad bars. Most of the people that I come in contact with want to ensure they are getting a healthy diet. It makes them feel better physically and makes the feel better about themselves. I believe that CDMs and chefs are going to play a vital role, hand-in-hand, to change menus for the better. I know ‘farm to table’ is the direction we are headed and that concept will just continue to expand over the coming years. From the ‘farm to table’ concept, we will birth jobs within our own towns and be confident that we are eating locally-sourced food.

What is your advice to those just getting started in the foodservice industry?

My advice is you must find a way to keep the zeal and passion that you have for food. This industry is easy for people to get burned out, but you can’t let that happen. You have to ‘just keep moving’. Make sure that you are open to change and initiating the change anywhere that you can! Don’t lose your passion, keep moving forward!