Point of View

Content with a point of view from foodservice operators, dealers, consultants, service agents, manufacturers and reps.


Hennepin Healthcare Focuses on Labor and Customer Service

Bill Marks began his foodservice career early, working at an ice cream shop outside of Philadelphia at the age of 16. While in college, he became the student manager for campus foodservice operations. He also worked for contract food management companies for 20 years and learned to
manage large multiservice operations.

Bill MarksBill MarksAfter working at Hennepin Healthcare in Minneapolis for three years while the facility was contract-managed, Marks transitioned the hospital’s foodservice and environmental services to a self-operated model in 2008 and helped the hospital become more active in the surrounding community. Hennepin Healthcare contains one of the first hospital-based, grant-funded food shelf initiatives, which provided 530,000 meals to food-insecure individuals in the local community in 2018.

Marks and his team also have been instrumental in developing and supporting programs such as the Children’s Summer Meal Program, which has served 17,500 meals to date; House of Charity, where his department organizes teams of staff members to support meals at a local shelter; and Project Search, helping special needs children find work in various jobs in the hospital.

This year, Marks was recognized with a 2019 IFMA Silver Plate Award.

As director of Food, Nutrition and Environmental Services at Hennepin Healthcare, Marks leads a 340-person team that produces and serves 450,000 patient meals and more than 1 million retail transactions annually. Foodservice operations include patient feeding, a cafe, three specialty coffee shops, the Physicians Dining & Wellness Center and a catering operation.

The Food and Nutrition Serivces annual budget totals $12.8 million, while the Environmental Services budget totals $13.5 million.

Q: What are the key challenges today in healthcare dining services?

A: Maintaining a high-quality department while often being required to reduce staffing expenses continues to be our greatest challenge. This is followed closely by the recruitment of great staff.

Q: What solutions have you discovered to meet those challenges?

A: To address staffing challenges, we have developed great relationships with local staffing agencies that understand our needs and prescreen potential team members for us. Most important, we have not lowered our hiring standards. Regardless of how many vacancies we have, we still maintain high requirements for all our current and potential staff.

Q: What advice can you offer when it comes to maintaining a topnotch healthcare foodservice program in today’s environment?

A: Pay attention to what the entire foodservice industry, including hospitals, colleges, family-dining restaurants and other facilities, is doing. Keep your operations fresh and exciting by making changes regularly and quickly introduce the newest trends, regardless if they are long term or short term. Never settle — if you can’t do it right, then don’t do it!

Q: How do you stay on budget and accomplish so much?

A: Providing great customer service and great-tasting food does not cost additional money. In fact, by doing these practices, we increase our sales and profits every year.

Q: What are you doing with patient foodservice?

A: We focus on making sure our food tastes great because we believe there is no excuse to serve anything of poor quality or poor taste. We use the highest quality of ingredients and make sure our recipes are perfect. We do not produce anything unless we can meet these two requirements.

Q: Why is retail important in a hospital environment?

A: Hospital retail operations are very important because hospital staff need a place to step away from their difficult jobs and decompress. Patients’ visitors are often stressed when they are at the hospital and the retail operation offers them an opportunity to relax for a few moments with great food while remaining near their loved ones. The key to our operation is consistent change, great food and outstanding customer service. We regularly hear our customers complain that they don’t know what to get because everything is so good.

Q: How have your equipment choices supported your operation?

A: Having the right equipment is one of the key components to an operation. If you expect your staff to perform at the highest levels, you must provide them with the proper tools in excellent working conditions. We do not have one particular piece of equipment that stands out from the rest because each piece of equipment is valuable. Steamers, convection ovens, steam-jacketed kettles, conveyor ovens, grills, broilers and rapid-cook ovens are all treasured because they each have a vital role to play in production.

The only equipment that would stand out from the others would be the one that is broken, although this is rare as we purchase high-quality equipment and regularly perform preventative maintenance.

Q: How has incorporating technology helped you?

A: The technology that has had the biggest impact on tremendously increasing customer satisfaction is our customer ordering deli kiosk in retail and the implementation of a spoken menu via electronic tablets in patient services.

Q: What are the highlights of Hennepin’s sustainable practices and green programs?

A: Hennepin was the first public hospital in the U.S. to sign Health Care Without Harm’s Healthy Food in Health Care Pledge. This pledges Hennepin to provide nutritionally improved food for patients, staff, visitors and the general public, along with creating food systems that are ecologically sound, economically viable and socially responsible. Nine years ago, we were also one of the first U.S. hospitals to fully eliminate all manufactured trans fats from patient, retail and catering menus.

We use herbs from seven fresh organic herb garden beds located on a rooftop balcony outside the cafe in patient meals and cafe recipes. For patients belonging to the Hmong culture, we grow herbs used in a traditional boiled chicken meal for mothers with newborn children. These herbs aren’t available from traditional vendors.

We participate in source-separated organics recycling, which includes composting food and soiled paper waste from the main kitchen and patient services.

In addition, the Food and Nutrition Services team implemented and manages a community-supported agriculture program in collaboration with a local organic farm. The produce is delivered to the hospital kitchen weekly and is sorted for about 50 families each week.

Q: What changes are you working on for next year?

A: An increase in plant-based protein options for a new station that will be 100 percent meat-free.

Q: How is healthcare foodservice making a mark?

A: Healthcare foodservice has changed tremendously over the last 10 years. The industry now succeeds in providing patients, staff and visitors with great tasting, great looking and creative meals that are nourishing. Many healthcare retail operations are at a level where they compete for customers along with local restaurants. The industry has a laser focus on understanding the diversity of our customers and providing them with multicultural food choices.

Q: What advice do you have for someone new to the foodservice industry?

A: Most important, you need to be a foodie and love working with people. Both food and people are the core of the foodservice industry. Be prepared to wear many hats and be good at wearing all those hats as a culinarian, human resource manager, financial manager, sanitarian and even an equipment/building maintenance person.