Meet Phillip Allison, Deputy Director of US Naval Academy Business Services Division. Phillip received the 2021 Silver Plate Award in the Retail & Specialty Foodservice category, and was nominated by Basic American Foods.
This video is brought to you with the support of Hershey Foodservice.
Watch IFMA's live conversation with Phillip Allison, Deputy Director of US Naval Academy Business Services Division. Hear Phil's story and learn what drives one of the nation’s top foodservice operators.
This live conversation is brought to you with the support of the IFMA Education Foundation.
Interview: What Drives the Nation's Top Foodservice Operators?
We asked the 2021 Silver Plate Class to share some perspectives and words of wisdom with the industry. Find out what they have to say about their passion for foodservice, career accomplishments and what it means to be part of a legendary group of operators.
How did you get your start in the foodservice industry?
My grandfather owned a number of restaurants in Boston before I was born. I would always hear my mother talk about them growing up and my interest was piqued with these stories. My first job was a busboy at Bethesda Country Club at age 16. I continued to work there through college in various positions including dishwasher, banquet server, pool snack bar operator, and server. I had dreams of attending college in a hotel and restaurant management program. I ended up accepting a Navy ROTC scholarship and this dream was placed on hold. Years later the Navy provided me with an opportunity to pursue an MBA in Hospitality, Restaurant and Institutional Management from Michigan State University and this led to my first assignment running the dining facility (King Hall) at the U.S. Naval Academy.
What do you enjoy most about your career in foodservice?
Exceeding expectations and improving the morale of those we serve. I learned at the Country Club everyone wants to enjoy a good meal after a round of golf, a day at the pool, as part of a catered event, or business meeting. Then as an officer on a U.S. naval ship, I realized the Food Service Officer impacted crew morale every day and you could really affect the success of the ship’s mission with an excellent workforce focused on exceeding culinary expectations of the entire crew.
Tell us about your biggest career accomplishment.
Convincing leadership to retain control of retail food service at the Naval Academy. Upon my arrival for my 3rd assignment at the Naval Academy there was discussion on reducing the size of the retail dining operation and converting some of our operations to contract endeavors. Not only did we retain control but we expanded our services to include a campus-branded coffee shop with three locations, partnerships with local caterers, and food trucks to increase options and provide more variety. These expansions combined with updating our current operations transitioned us from a reactive operation to a strategic partner supporting the mission of the Naval Academy. Today, we can pivot to the needs of the Naval Academy providing a first class à la carte dining operation and a robust catering operation that can flex to support a board meeting style dinner or a sit-down catered banquet for 800. It’s amazing...and we have a lot more planned.
How have you kept yourself and your team motivated this past year?
While it has been tough, we did it by taking care of one another. Many within our Retail Dining leadership team had some very difficult times over the last 15 months but we stayed engaged and motivated each other. Our campus did not shut down and a significant portion of our student body, if not all, has been on campus since May 2020. Our operations remained open and our focus shifted from revenue to service in support of our Brigade of Midshipmen. A number of these services were impromptu requests based on current virus protocols but we were there to answer the call, and worked closely with our clients when circumstances required cancellations or postponements. Daily meetings within the team enabled us to vent with each other, talk out the challenges and recognize we were all in uncharted territory. These conversations kept us engaged, together, stable, and motivated to be ready to respond when called upon and it looks like that time has finally arrived.
What advice do you have for someone new to the foodservice industry?
In 2008, when I was faced with the challenges in my Retail Food Service position at the Naval Academy, my wife encouraged me to further my education and provided me with a copy of Danny Meyer’s “Setting the Table – The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business.” This read for me was a game changer and I would strongly recommend all managers starting in food service read it. Three of his key points that resonated with me include embracing a constant gentle pressure environment, understanding that mistakes are learning moments for your team, and partnering with your staff for performance. All food service managers must understand Danny’s point that at its best leadership is a partnership - both leader and direct report have an opportunity to influence each other as both parties play a role in determining how things get done. In other words, it’s all about WE and not ME; emphasizing that the “We” is greater than the “Me.” This advice changed how we tackled the challenges of our operations within NABSD and the team worked together to position us to meet the mission of our Institution.
What does being an IFMA Silver Plate recipient mean to you?
It validates the commitment and execution of a very dedicated team that supported my efforts as we transitioned from a federal institutional approach to an entrepreneurial operational approach. We embraced change and increased retail dining options in support of our Naval Academy mission. Change is difficult in any business, our team had to do so while ensuring compliance with myriad federal requirements as we are an active military base. Despite these hurdles the team embraced the changes and have been committed to the objective of improving service to the Brigade of Midshipmen, the Naval Academy Faculty and Staff, and our Alumni. We have an engaged, active alumni who visit often and desire to recognize significant life events with catered support that is provided by our first class staff who are committed to our mission – Serving those who Serve in support of our country. The Silver Plate Award enables me to share it and recognize all those who worked so hard to achieve this standard and thank them for their dedication.
What is your favorite meal?
With my father’s U.S. government career I lived in France, Germany, and Turkey for eight of my first 11 years. We lived in Frankfurt, Germany, when I was a young boy in 2nd and 3rd grade. I was introduced to Wiener schnitzel and spaetzle. This combo became my favorite meal as a child and even more so today. My wife prepares it often, also serving green beans (it never gets old and brings back so many fond memories of my childhood). On really special occasions we enjoy Angel Food cake with strawberries for the dessert.