Food and Nutrition Department and Vendor Relationships…How to Make the Best of Them

In my current position as an operational consultant and trainer for Burlodge, I have met some of the greatest FSD’s and their staff’s all over the country.  I mean I have more than met them, I’ve gotten to know them and can’t wait until I can get back to their area and visit again. When I’m working on pre-implementation and I can’t reach the FSD with a question I might have, I call on our sales staff.  They are so well versed in knowledge of the facility and goals for the services we are supporting.  That is all good……..both for the FSD/ facility trying to make changes or upgrades to services, and for those of us on the vendor side who truly want our clients to succeed with their vision using our equipment or product.  In these days of increasing pressure to reduce costs, operate on minimal FTE’s, improve patient satisfaction with meal services and clinical care and make do with existing facility and equipment, your foodservice vendors can be a great asset and compliment to your own staff.

In Canada, The ARCUS Consulting Group, 2015-2016 Canadian Healthcare Trends Survey of 220 C-suite healthcare executive cites reduced costs, efficient care delivery, optimized risk management and better information as the top 4 priorities for 2016.  It also annotated an “accelerated trend of migrating healthcare delivery services from acute care centers to home based models.”  In the US, The ACHE 2015 survey of 350 healthcare executives cited financial challenges as first of their concerns.  Worker shortages and patient satisfaction were ranked 4th and 5th.  Every concern or priority listed in these surveys affects the foodservice department through pressure to deliver better quality, outcomes and satisfying services while cutting costs and operating with little or no capital investment in new equipment.  The key to mitigating some of these challenges can and should come from partnership with your vendors.  You can garner their knowledge of product, training and services as part of your plan to optimize your resources now and in moving toward your future vision.  When I was an FSD at Florence Blanchfield Army Hospital my prime vendor rep was a sitting member of my bi-weekly menu meeting to advise us on product quality, new products and assist in designing menus for our retail and patient services.  His input was invaluable to us.  Remember that equipment sales staff and trainers see operations all over the country or region and have lots of successful operational processes and layouts to draw on.

To make the most of these relationships it is important that both parties clearly understand your concerns and vision.  Here is a good list of things that you can do to promote the relationship and use vendors as resources.

  1. Clearly state your vision for the future operation.
  2. Be as honest as you can about your challenges so that they can provide advice and solutions to help you with existing equipment, food, supplies or design.
  3. Ask questions about other facilities that they work in that may be facing your challenges or are already doing some of the things that you are looking to implement.
  4. Use them as a resource to connect you to other FSD’s.
  5. Ask for them to be part of your solution process.
  6. Keep them informed as your plans move forward, need adjusted or hit a dead end. Sometimes they might have an idea or example of how their product can help you overcome the obstacle.
  7. Have your support expectations clearly outlined when you are talking about purchasing new product or services.
  8. Keep their numbers on your speed dial!!!
  9. Discuss your support concerns right away and provide positive feedback when warranted.
  10. Keep your expectations realistic understanding that your vendors are working with several FSD’s and have the desire to see all succeed, thus distributing their time and energies across a broad spectrum of area and facilities.

Any vendor worth their position will want to see their uniforms looking the best on your staff or their food at the best quality on the tray or serving line or their equipment being used to it’s optimal level in providing gold standard services.   We are all in these turbulent times together let’s make the most of it.