Foodservice Consultant

The online resource for FCSI members and the wider hospitality community

Tim Smallwood

An Australian foodservice consultant’s week

Patients and prisoners... Tim Smallwood, FFCSI, takes us through a week in the life of an Australian Foodservice Consultant

Monday morning and a four-hour flight to Perth. Arrive 8:30am – the three-hour time change helps in this direction, and provides an opportunity to read the few documents which have been provided. A cab to the New Children’s Hospital and I find where the office is located; no one seems to be expecting me! The project for a new 270-bed specialist children’s hospital has been in the planning stage for over a year and the managing contractor is looking for sign off of the essential layouts by the client. Last week I reviewed and rejected; well, not so much rejected as provided the basis for an improved solution of the retail catering level. This week it’s the patients’ kitchen design that is concerning the project director – so here I am.

I’m here for two days. My first step is to gain as much information as possible: absorb the overall hospital space planning, circulation, ward configuration and so on. Standing at a drawing board flicking through a pile of A0 size 1:100 scale plan layouts in the planning office, the director comes in to speak to one of the project managers; turns to me and asks “who are you?” as if it’s a familiar thing for a stranger to be looking at their project documents.

Once that’s sorted out, and yes, I was expected but forgotten about, I then get a one-to-one briefing on the background, philosophy, direction and vision for the hospital. When I ask for the brief that was provided for the kitchen design, I discover that the only information available is an accommodation schedule of rooms and areas within the kitchen. No menus, portion sizes, take-up, service plan, operations plan and staffing or in fact anything that could guide the kitchen design and service had been provided to the managing contractor, their architect or their kitchen designer.

And nor had the kitchen designer (who is not a member of FCSI) asked for them before providing a design solution!

The rest of the day spent digging out information and badgering people – most of whom were surprised that no-one had asked for the information before and were very helpful once they knew why it was wanted. A great deal of discussion was had about the menu strategy: a traditional two-week-cycle menu or a single daily menu which would change seasonally? The choice could have a significant impact on the kitchen design with the number of daily choices involved and in the end it was decided to move forward on a single daily menu as providing the children and their patients and carers with the best service. By 6pm (9pm by my internal clock), I had most of what was required to review the design.

Evening. Hotel room service dinner while I look over the kitchen plan to get a feel for the schedule of proposed equipment and the space and flow. Red marker pen, dotted ant trails following the process and the staff movement through the kitchen – it really does not work very well!

Tuesday morning. Up early; my body clock says it’s time although I am working on local time; the three hours is just enough to make the working day longer, but not enough to adjust to with only two days away. In the office early and get a chance to mark up some plans with a change to the space planning and space relationship (took three tries) before the planned meeting with the project manager and client team who have guided the design of the kitchen to this point.

It’s a tense meeting. The project manager, who I have met previously on another hospital project, is clearly defensive so I encourage him to talk about how the solution evolved and some of the decisions that have been made. While it is clear that a lack of understanding through the provision of inadequate information has been a problem, some requirements – such as planning for Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points (HACCP) – which were understood as requirements have nevertheless not been achieved. One issue that did come up was the amount of time that had been wasted as a result of working on an architectural layout that had inexplicably omitted a large stairwell. I suppose someone had not turned on a layer, such are the joys of CAD. They had clearly just re-worked their solution around the offending structure instead of starting again – a reminder to us all that there are times when you have to tear up a concept which is not working, take a new blank sheet and start afresh. My way is to turn the sheet upside down so that you are seeing it completely differently.

In the end the project manager fortunately had another meeting to go to, so the rest of us worked through the issues and ideas; grabbed other specialists and resolved the functional requirements.

PM. Spent checking information and developing flowcharts to confirm the processes before heading off to the airport for the flight back. Arrive midnight my time. The three hours are enough time to work on the review report. Home by 1am.

Wednesday. Back to the office – a 50km drive. Finish off and email the hospital kitchen design review report with sketches illustrating the improved utilisation of the space. A benchmark of hospital kitchens developed over the past 10 years based on bed numbers indicates that there should be sufficient space for the kitchen.

Thursday. Asset audit and operating review of the kitchen at a 680-prisoner high-security prison. It does not take long to get from my office to the prison; it takes twice as long to get through security, even though we are expected and remember to leave our mobile phones in the car. Eye scan; metal scan; a machine that smells you for drugs; and emptying all your pockets and hand scanning. Taking in my camera seems to cause the least difficulty; I even had to swap my pen for a ballpoint with a clear body. It took so long that we clashed with The Count: everything stops when they count every prisoner; another half an hour wait, I think they lost someone briefly.

Once inside, a walk along the perimeter to the kitchen; the last time I was there seven years ago, just before it opened (or should that be closed!), I drove in. After seven years of being run by prison labour with prison officers supervising, the facility is in surprisingly good condition. Maintenance is the big issue because of the difficulty of arranging access in a seven day a week, high-security operation. But at the same time the maintenance strategy had been poorly implemented, which was one of the outcomes of the audit. This is an issue with many kitchens we see. They are cleaned acceptably but there is seldom a planned maintenance strategy.

One castor fails on a trolley, it is taken out of service and just the one castor is replaced rather than all four. This is often the case with failed light globes also; instead of recognising that if one goes it will not be long before others do and therefore the most cost-effective strategy is to replace all the globes in the room while the labour (which is usually far more expensive than the materials) is on site rather than the cost and inconvenience incurred by frequent disruptions. I recommend The Management of Maintenance and Engineering Systems in the Hospitality Industry by Borsenik and Stutts (pub: John Wiley & Sons) as a very useful reference.

Because there is a plan to increase prisoner numbers by up to 30% in coming years, we need to analyse their menu and production processes. It has to be remembered that while kitchen labour numbers are not an issue, they are seldom skilled and in the case of a remand prison they can leave (either because they are freed or because they are not) without warning and the number is made up at the last minute by another prisoner who has to be trained from scratch.

Working through the menu and recalculating the production quantities identified the equipment under the replacement programme that will be required to meet the increased production. As there can be no increase in the kitchen area, the solution is higher-powered equipment with the same footprint; the resulting increased electrical load is the engineer’s problem. We did locate some secure external space for expanded bulk refrigerated stores, but that means moving the waste compound. Photographs have to be carefully taken so that there are no prisoners in frame, and it is a good idea to have a prison officer nearby at all times. The biggest problem turns out to be the wheels on the meal delivery carts which are towed by tug (driven by a prisoner). No-one ever seems to check the pressure of the tyres, with the result that they were always coming off their rims with the tight turns required to get through the various security gates. We will be putting in a self-contained digital tyre pressure pump in this and future prison kitchens; all in a foodservice consultant’s play book.

It’s much quicker to get out although it did take several tries for my retina scan to be recognised; for a brief moment I wondered what would happen if the security could not identify me; but then I got a green light and the exit door opened. Back to the carpark to retrieve my phone from the glove-box: the missed calls will all have to wait for tomorrow. That’s the end of my PPP commitments for the week.

Thank God it’s Friday….

I seem to have heard that before somewhere, but never was there a truer word spoke. It takes all morning to return calls and emails and all afternoon to catch up on the paperwork and timesheets. At the end of the day I catch up with industry friends to exchange notes on our various and varied experiences as foodservice consultants.

Tim Smallwood, FFCSI, MDIA was the last non-aligned member representative to the worldwide Board in 2002 and the founding chair of the Asia Pacific Division of FCSI. He founded Foodservice Consultants Australia 34 years ago and is now providing specialist advice and consulting to government and industry in Australia and Asia through Smallwood Foodservice Consulting.