Anyone who has ever worked in the dining services industry knows it is not easy. The hours can be long and the physical aspect can be exhausting. For Tony Zaccaglino, director of operations at St. John’s Meadows, his journey began at Charlie Riedel’s as a cook. From there, he worked as a bartender at Schooner’s Riverside Pub before transitioning to fine dining at the Woodcliff Hotel and Spa. “I fell in love with the industry when I started bartending,” states Tony. After years of back and forth between sports bars and fine dining, Tony realized he enjoyed the hours and flexibility of fine dining.
When the position opened for dining services manager at St. John’s Meadows, Tony hesitated to apply. “I’ll be honest, when I saw this position posted, I ignored it for about two weeks before I decided to go for it,” says Tony. “But it was obviously life changing once I started. I never anticipated liking it as much as I do.” The change of pace from a young, rowdy bar crowd to a senior population was difficult at first, but “for the better” as Tony explains.
After four years of managing the dining room, Tony was promoted to director of operations which included overseeing dining, transportation, and environmental services. Throughout the years, St. John’s Meadows has grown exponentially, with more and more activities and events arising. “As far as dining services is concerned, it is important for us to continue to be more creative and innovative with our events,” Tony explains. Between the farmer’s markets and holiday catering, residents now have more options and choices.
While innovation and creativity help to give residents a better customer experience, it is the relationships formed with staff members that provide meaningful life. “Every day is an adventure and you have the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life,” states Tony. Similar to a country club, the dining room at St. John’s Meadows serves the same residents day in and day out. “You have to get creative with it; you want to make it as unique and challenging as possible,” explains Tony. “That goes for your staff as well.”
With Tony’s previous experience in bartending and serving, he can relate to how his staff members are feeling on a daily basis. “It is very hard to please people who are eating in the same dining room 7 days a week, 365 days a year.” Showing appreciation and having a good relationship is vital in maintaining innovative and creative staff members. “There are so many things, small and large, that the dining staff does that goes unnoticed,” states Tony. “They are always catering to everyone else.”
For National Healthcare Food Service Appreciation Week, which happens to be October 7-13, Tony and other members from the leadership team decided to serve a sit down lunch to the dining staff as a thank you. “They never get a chance to sit down and be served,” Tony states. Other events throughout the week included games, activities, and raffles. “We want them to know they are valued and appreciated,” concludes Tony.