Foodservice has become a differentiator in today's hospitals. Progressive facilities competing for patients are instituting revolutionary room service programs; installing serveries with a variety of offerings; providing upscale, seasonal fare; and even creating destination restaurants with takeout programs rivaling the top chains.
"Many chefs are moving to the healthcare arena, and it has become important to have someone with culinary experience on staff," says Elizabeth Yesford, senior director at Providence Hospital in Washington, D.C. Yesford is also an Association for Healthcare Foodservice (AHF) board member and its 2012 president-elect. "Hospital foodservice is like hotel foodservice on a diet, due to the clinical needs involved." These changes are no surprise, considering retail sales in the healthcare foodservice segment have more than doubled in the last 20 years. For 2011, this segment is expected to reach retail sales of more than $22 billion, according to Technomic, a Chicago-based foodservice industry research firm. Retail sales in hospitals are forecasted at $10 billion for this year, an increase from approximately $8.5 billion a decade ago.
"The healthcare retail component has arrived and is here to stay," says Marsha Diamond, MA, RD, foodservice business development consultant with M. Diamond, LLC., in New York City. That's because hospitals are looking for additional revenue streams.
"Many hospitals found the best way to accomplish this is with a better brand," Diamond says. "This trend of branding healthcare foodservice as an image has been coupled with patient foodservice."
The goal of these initiatives is to transcend the former hospital cafeteria stigma and create a retail environment that exceeds the expectations of employees, visitors and patients. As a result, more hospital foodservice programs are looking at overall trends and adjusting menus to better suit customers. For example, more operations have incorporated healthier options, seasonal ingredients, flavor fusions and updated comfort foods.
In an effort to create healthier offerings, Providence Hospital has instituted Meatless Mondays, Fryless Fridays and 500-calorie meals for $5. Broilers have become more predominant for food preparation.
"Dieticians also are more involved with foodservice operations than in the past," Yesford says. "There are now more synergies between hospitals' culinary and nutrition staff." Speed of service remains a top priority in this segment. "Hospitals not only have to be more accommodating with timelines in terms of providing patient meals, but retail customers also are in a hurry to get in and out," Yesford says. To address this need, Providence Hospital has created a to-go menu for phone-in orders.
Because controlling cost and waste is a big factor in the hospital foodservice segment, as it is for restaurants, portion control awareness has become more prevalent.
Although many hospital foodservice programs are still contracted out, those that are self-operated continue to raise the bar when it comes to performance and food quality. "Self-operated operations are taking more pride in their programs," Diamond says. "These programs have taken foodservice to the next level. Not only will an improved foodservice operations increase patient satisfaction and hospital brand recognition, but it could provide comfort to guests and families, help patients heal and save hospitals money in the long run."