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Companies boost morale with new tastes, occasional deals

Companies boost morale with new tastes, occasional deals

Reports of economic doom and gloom, pandemics and other worrisome crises can be overwhelming. The good news is, corporate foodservices are helping to brighten their customers’ spirits, even if for a short moment during the workday. And, they’re doing this with minimal investment.

At Healthcare Service Corp., the parent company of Blue Cross Blue Shield, or BCBS, of Illinois and Texas, a chef exchange program keeps the foodservice program fresh and inviting to employees.

During the week of April 15, Brian Wagner, executive chef for Sodexo, the Chicago location’s foodservice provider, traveled to the BCBS offices in Richardson, Texas, where he trained the foodservice staff to prepare Vietnamese shrimp spring rolls, lemongrass chicken spring rolls, mango spring rolls and sides of Asian cucumber and carrot salad, Asian pineapple slaw and Asian dipping sauces. The menu was presented to customers on the final day of his visit.

The next week, executive chef Luis Marquez, who oversees the independently run operation in Texas, brought culinary ideas to Chicago. His lineup included Veracruzana tortas, or sandwiches, with pan-grilled tilapia and avocado, and three other tortas, with refried black or pinto beans, salsa, and homemade potato chips. Marquez also trained the staff and presented the menu to the cafe’s customers. The cost to BCBS was the chefs’ airfare, hotel and expenses.

“We hope this is refreshing for employees,” said Bob Majerus, executive director of administrative services for BCBS. “We consider our employees very important assets, and we try to make their lunch periods and time away from work something to look forward to.

“We received very positive feedback from customers, many of whom don’t have much opportunity to travel and taste authentic food from other cultures. In addition, the foodservice employees are motivated when a guest chef comes to work with them.”

This is the second year for the chef exchange. Majerus said he expects it will continue in the future.

Cultural exchanges also give employees at four Humana locations a feeling of connection with their colleagues in different locations.

During the week of the Kentucky Derby in early May, Guckenheimer, the foodservice provider for Humana, served a Derby plate special at two cafes in Louisville, Ky., one in Green Bay, Wis., and one in Cincinnati. Cafes also plan to feature specials in honor of the Cincinnati Reds and baseball season, and the Green Bay Packers and football season.

Efforts to educate customers about new foods and products also have been popular at Humana cafes. During Take Your Child to Work Day on April 23, a display table at cafe entrances presented five nontraditional foods, such as quinoa and star fruit.

“The adults were as interested in sampling and learning about new foods as the kids,” said Patty Guist, manager of associate programs and services.

Educational tables are also set up quarterly in each of four cafes, featuring a single topic like super grains or bio-compostables.

On May 20, in coordination with National Employee Health and Fitness Day, a table with information about Humana’s wellness program will be set up near the cafe. Also, every Wednesday during the summer, fresh foods from local farmers will be displayed and available for purchase.

At eight Wachovia Corp. office buildings, where Aramark is the foodservice provider, the regular buffet line features a customer appreciation meal that bundles entrées not normally offered, such as salmon or rib-eye steak, and side dishes. The meal is offered about once a month at a lower cost than the à la carte price for individual menu items.

“These meals acknowledge to employees that we recognize that times are difficult and this is not a business-as-usual environment,” said Kathy Sanders, vice president of corporate services supplier management at Wachovia.

Another gesture of appreciation is shown when managers walk through the cafes at 16 Wachovia locations and buy meals for customers. Four different contract companies manage these locations.

“We started this about eight months ago,” Sanders said. “Managers can give signed business cards to customers who are waiting in the cashier’s line. Customers give the cards to a cashier. Managers give away about 10 meals a month.”

Sanders recalled a visit to New Orleans when she learned the word lagniappe, which is broadly defined as something given or obtained gratuitously or by way of good measure. She and many others in corporate dining realize the enormous value that doing something little can lift spirits in tough times.

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