Getting Chef Buy-In: An Interview with Erica Hamilton

Introducing an automated system in a large-scale kitchen operation is challenging. You want to ensure recipes are exact and procedures are in place for every step of the preparation process. Working with chefs and foodservice teams is an additional challenge in making the system work.

We spoke with Erica Hamilton of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center* about her session, “Getting Chef Buy-In” at the 2016 User Group Conference to learn more about her experiences introducing an automated system into their foodservice operations. Successful implementation of automation in kitchen operations requires both great teamwork and respecting the opinions of your colleagues.

Could you give us a brief overview of your UGC 2016 presentation, “Getting Chef Buy-In”?

I spoke about our facility and how management, IT, dietitians, and chefs were able to . . . Feel valued in the recipe building process and using requisitions. We discussed strategies of how to influence and lead chefs who are not directly managed by the implementation team. It was a round table type of discussion where people would ask questions and I, along with the group, would give examples of what worked for us . . . To get interest, I engaged CBORD® to get an updated ROI and presented that information to our team . . . Pushing forward on automating our kitchen operations had to be a group effort, and others also needed to see the value in it.

Initially, how did your chefs respond to automating procedures?

They felt mostly overwhelmed. I got the feeling that they thought, “we don’t have time now, and you expect us to add things to our plate?” No one wanted to sit down to build the recipes . . . To determine what stock would be needed.

The biggest roadblock was to re-learn how to allocate time. It took more time up front, but chefs were on board once [we] showed them how much time it saved day-to-day. No one wanted to do requisitions. Our program coordinator to build them . . . Independently. Once the staff saw how much time they saved, then they were on board to keep up with it.

Chefs are part of the culinary arts—and by nature, artists are hesitant to allow automation into their practice. Was this something you encountered?

We are lucky enough to have a team who focuses on the goals of the department . . . I began working with key sous chefs to start building new recipes, requisitions, etc. Chefs worked on items for their area only so they could see . . . How putting in accurate numbers impacts automation. I then identified who are the chefs with the most respect from the staff and who are the leaders within the group. Getting their buy-in was priority number one. They are the leaders, it’s their kitchen. If they are on board and energetic, then staff will most often follow.

Walking into a kitchen and telling others what to do will often fall flat. Taking several days and explaining to staff that you want to become . . . More familiar with their day-to-day work goes a long way . . . Toward earning their respect.

How have the chefs at your hospital adapted? Do they work within the Foodservice Suite® (FSS) system?

Fairly well. This all comes with its fair share of days that you want to pull your hair out. Right now I have two chefs who work in the FSS system. They write recipes and build requisitions. They also work with the storeroom to ensure the requisitions are being used.

What would your advice be to other sites to convince their chefs on the virtues of automation?

A lot of it comes down to approach and delivery: setting an example . . . And respecting and valuing chefs’ opinions. I think the majority of the accountability falls on those responsible for implementation. If you work side-by-side with your chefs, then you will learn about their challenges first-hand. It’s a key way to earn their respect and make them feel involved in the decisions that are made.

*This article was generated through correspondence and has been edited for length and style. Ellipses are included to denote content and comments that have been eliminated from the original text.