GW officials share science of J Street service

GW Dining Services has come under scrutiny lately as students adjusting to new schedules brave long lines for sandwiches and coffee. Although J Street officials said they continue to evaluate GW’s food service, some food service professionals said there is more that can be done to maximize efficiency and, ultimately, customer satisfaction.

Several professionals in the food service business said by ensuring proper staffing at peak times, targeting times for food preparation and utilizing customer and employee input, restaurants can better serve their customers.

Additional labor isn’t always the answer, said Joe Ganci, resident district manager for Sodexho Marriott Services, the dining contractor at American University. He described his position as a labor optimization coordinator.

One of the functions of my job is to teach people how to allocate the labor in their place, Ganci said.

Ganci explained the system used at American, which has six food stations to serve about 10,000 students, including a cafeteria that seats 750 people.

We keep track of all of our statistics of customer flow every 15 minutes, Ganci said.

Ganci said these numbers are then examined using a software program that provides graphs of peak times, enabling the managers to properly allocate workers.

When managers are aligning their labor with the amount of customers, you get a place that is clean, workers that are efficient and customers that are happy because they’re getting what they want, he said.

Aramark, GW’s dining contractor, also tracks customers at each cash registers on campus, said Rawn Burnett, director of Food Services at GW.

We look at (the counts), we look at our master schedules, we evaluate the vendors as far as how many guests come through and how many workers we need per guest, he said.

Ganci said about 400 American students are served every hour during peak lunch times at Sub Connection, a sandwich vendor comparable to Subway. It took six minutes and 45 seconds to wait in line, order a sandwich and pay during a randomly selected weekday lunch rush at American.

Burnett said he could not estimate a customer count for a GW dining station at any given time. It took 13 minutes and seven seconds to wait in line, order a sandwich and pay at J Street’s Montague’s Deli during a randomly selected lunch rush.

The Au Bon Pain coffee shop and deli located in the 2000 Penn shopping mall strives for a five-minute turnaround time for each customer, said Ram Adhikari, an assistant manager at the restaurant. This includes three minutes at the cash register, one minute waiting at the sandwich bar and one minute to get condiments and a drink, he said.

Adhikari said about 275 to 325 customers are served in the store between 12 and 1 p.m. on an average day. ABP has six cashiers, two runners and four sandwich makers on duty for these peak times.

The ABP manager said slow lines at J Street could be a result of poor planning.

In almost all fast food restaurants, a cashier talks to customers and gives the orders to a sandwich maker in order to eliminate wasted time by sandwich makers waiting on indecisive customers, Adhikari said.

You don’t want to have a customer talking to the sandwich-maker, said Adhikari, who times his workers daily. That slows things down.

Students at most J Street stations give their food order to an employee who prepares the food. At the deli, students give their order to the sandwich-maker.

Ganci also monitors the speed of his workers.

Each of our businesses has target times for everything they do in front of customers, he said. The unit managers regularly work on target times, then I look for continued improvement on these benchmarks.

At GW’s 25 dining locations, managers of individual food stations oversee workers to maximize speed and efficiency, Burnett said.

But no target times for service are set at these stations, said Lyle Vaughan, assistant director of Auxiliary and Institutional Services.

I’m not sure (target times have) gotten that precise, Vaughan said. It’s not predictable. What we have to do on our end is have as many people working to help handle these spikes throughout the day.

Ganci said he disagrees.

Our business is very predictable, he said. We go about two weeks into the semester without being able to predict business.

Burnett outlined the efficiency evaluation process at J Street.

We have inspectors that come through as mystery shoppers and rate us, he said. We have weekly meetings to sit down and figure out what can we do to serve our guests more efficiently.

Another key aspect of food services at American is employee and customer input, evident from the wall of comment cards and replies displayed in the dining hall. Ganci said surveys and focus groups also help provide feedback on possible food service improvements.

I have it figured out to the point that I know women who are sophomores typically eat at this breakfast place, at `x’ time, and prefer these meals, he said.

Student Association President David Burt said that in response to general student dissatisfaction with J Street service the SA will post next week an online forum for dining complaints on its Web site. He said he hopes the forum will provide student input for Dining Services at GW.

I regard Dining Services as extremely important because if you’re on campus, you don’t have a choice but to eat here, he said. The SA Senate also hopes to pass next week Resolution Fall 2000-01, which addresses the current state of food services at GW.

Vaughan said additions, including pre-prepared sandwiched at the deli and grab and go items in Cranberry Farms and the Hippodrome, are being made to ensure better and faster service.

We are continually striving to do whatever we can to improve the speed of service and the quality of products, Burnett said.
-Russ Rizzo contributed to this report.

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