Most of today's foodservice projects seem to share two common traits: they are all more complex than ever before and operate on a fast-track development schedule. Factor in tighter budgets and higher than normal customer expectations and the project has no room for error. In this environment, these projects often require the specialized expertise and experience of both design and management advisory consultants to not only make the most effective and efficient use of the resources available but to also position the operation for long-term success.

FE&SEditorial Director Joe Carbonara (left) moderates a panel discussion on collaboration featuring (from left to right) Ray Soucie, Char Norton and Tim Stafford. Photo courtesy of FCSI-The Americas, Bret Robertson, Faded Pictures LLCSuch was the case with Salem Hospital, one of Oregon's largest acute care facilities with more than 450 beds. In addition, Salem Hospital operates one of the busiest Emergency Room facilities in Oregon, according to consultant Ray Soucie, RSA Inc. Food Service Consulting. The hospital has more than 4,000 full-time employees.

It was Soucie who fielded a call from the architect charged with building a new Salem hospital kitchen. Upon looking at the scope of the work and the timeline, Soucie reached out to fellow foodservice consultants Char Norton of the Norton Group and Tim Stafford of Stafford Design Group. The trio worked collaboratively to deliver a state-of-the-art foodservice operation for Salem Hospital.

FE&S talked with Soucie, Norton and Stafford about the lessons they learned from working collaboratively on this project. The trio shared their experiences during a panel discussion at the pre-NAFEM Show symposium hosted by FCSI-The Americas.

FE&S: The three of you had known each other for years but had not yet teamed up to work together as a group. How did this come about?

RS: This was a fast-track, design-build project between the architect and the construction company. They wanted the best team to get the foodservice component done in a short amount of time. The timelines and demands made it important to work collaboratively. There were going to be meetings going on with operations and architects at the same time. You can't be in two different places at the same time. Add in the room service component and working collaboratively was a natural decision. I recalled Tim and Char had some success in healthcare, including the recently completed Reading Hospital. So things progressed naturally from there.

FE&S: How did you get started?

TS: Step one was to put a package together to win the project. Ray contacted me and he took the lead in this area. We reviewed what they were looking for and realized the project required a MAS consultant.

We pulled together that information and added a few things to strengthen the team. We reviewed everything, including who would do what. Ray packaged up the proposal and supporting documentation and sent it off to the architect. We were selected to come in for an interview.

FE&S: Not every project employs a MAS consultant. Why was it necessary for this project?

CN: My role is to show a foodservice operator how the food will go from dock to dining, including how many people will work on the line, what they use each piece of equipment for and so forth. In this case, the client needed to change their thought process. Their previous room service operation generated fantastic food with a good flavor profile. The process they used to manage their room service operation was leading edge when it was first implemented but that was no longer the case.

TS: On a project like this, a MAS consultant can become a check and balance as the design develops, and helps answer operational questions as the process plays out. That's the typical approach, but it was not how this project played out. Luckily it did not impact the end result this time around.

FE&S: On the front end you decided that Ray would coordinate the meetings, Tim would handle some of the production work and Char would handle the MAS component and all that encompasses. These seem like pretty clearly defined roles. How does being this detail oriented up front help the project?

TS: Understanding your role is absolutely critical. Getting that resolved up front helps eliminate miscommunication as the project plays out. We did a good job with that. Ray has a certain style when communicating with clients and I have my own. So we had to learn each other's style and find a compromise in terms of how to work together. And the overall foodservice program becomes a kit of parts that we all work with.

FE&S: What was the importance of the programming manual in the project's success?

RS: The three of us developed a programming manual and used it as a guide process that they used throughout the project to keep everyone on point. Over the course of any project, designs will change based on budget and other factors, so you want to have something like this to keep everyone focused. We worked on the programming manual together, presented it to the client, made a few changes and used it as our guide map. This document reminds why you are doing some things and why you should not do others.

FE&S: In this case, that approach really paid dividends because you were dealing with a client that had some success in the past and was really attached to a specific layout and way of doing things. And they had ambitious goals for the future. So how did you work together to change their minds?

CN: This was one of the first hospitals in the U.S. to implement room service. But they were using a technique that was 20 years old. Looking to the future, they wanted to expand the room service program to other buildings. And, while the patient service required only one line today, that would not be the case long term. So the biggest challenge we had was communicating that what made them successful in the past would be the same in the future. Tim and I had worked together for a project at Reading Hospital in Pennsylvania. And when that project came online, the team at Reading was nice enough to let us bring the Salem team out to see what was planned. That's when the light bulb went off for them.

FE&S: This is probably not the first time an operator has been resistant to change and having an advantage like Reading Hospital was a great tool to have. But when you don't have something like that at your disposal, how do you handle this situation?

CN: I had been an operator and once you explain to an operator how doing things another way will benefit their business most customers want to adopt that approach. In this instance, we wanted to make sure this design would last past the current operations team. It's important to note operators don't need to be bleeding edge when it comes to technology but they need to be cutting edge. In this instance, they needed to know moving to this design would not increase labor and could even result in lower operating costs. That's because this design allows one person to perform multiple functions. This becomes exciting to them once you explain it to them. When they look at stainless steel or a flat piece of paper, they don't understand. Once Tim took the design to BIM [building information modeling], though, they began to understand it better.

RS: The use of BIM — one of Tim's competencies — helped them better understand what we were trying to accomplish because they could see the design in 3D. Between the Revit and the visit to Reading, they finally understood what we were trying to accomplish.

FE&S: What other challenges were you able to solve by working collaboratively that might have been more difficult if you were flying solo?

RS: Bouncing design ideas off the other consultants is a very healthy thing. We went through a number of conversations about various aspects of this project. We came up with a "best of both worlds" approach to things like waste management and the dish room. Sure, Tim and I each could have designed the kitchen on our own but the final product was stronger this way. HVAC is another area where working collaboratively really benefitted the project. This project has a basement location with a ceiling lined with pipes, electric and more that support the existing four-story building above. We needed to determine how to reduce the overall duct work and still operate a kitchen with five or six hoods without having a negative impact on the environment.

FE&S: What made the project so successful?

TS: We used the three different skill sets to develop a good design. It took three sets of brains and three sets of experience to accomplish this. Sometimes we each heard things differently and had to educate each other to keep pushing the project forward without too many bumps in the road. Given the scope of the project, and specifically the type of change to the room service operation, it was a challenge for the client to understand what we were saying at first. So with three of us involved, we were always able to get our points across. I enjoy collaborating with other consultants because of the ability to bounce ideas off one another. Three people with different perspectives and experiences are better than one.

FE&S: What are some lessons you learned from this process?

CN: The MAS consultant needs to be there through the entire project in some way. You need to take care of the client from concept through completion and this helps facilitate that outcome. You present yourself as a team so we should be together through the end of the project.

TS: You need to check your ego at the door. The people who are going to collaborate need to learn that you will have to develop a hybrid approach to working with these people. Things may not be done the way you are used to doing them. In this instance, we had to talk about ways to make it work for all of us. We sold ourselves as a three-legged stool. Without one of the legs we were not as stable. We made sure the owner knew we were communicating with each other and if they needed to, they could pick up the phone and call us. But then you have to make sure to follow through. Even if it is the most mundane thing, they still need to know.

RS: Trusting in the integrity of those you are collaborating with can pay big dividends. Sharing your skill sets with others and receiving the benefit of their knowledge in return raises all boats.

Many challenging issues were resolved though our team efforts in a very short period of time. I believe the client received an excellent product and am personally proud of the outcome. Our "stool" was actually stronger having been built with our combined years of experience and diversified backgrounds.