Getting it to go: 2010 Portability Study

Six operators share how they are seeing growth in their take-away business.

Grab and Go By Necessity

When the 100-seat cafeteria at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, Calif., closed for renovation in mid-September, Gail Ermer faced a dilemma. How was the director of food and nutrition services at the 252-bed hospital going to continue to provide meals for the more than 1,000 employees who relied on the café on a regular basis?

Her solution was to create Café Good To Go, a “quasi-delivery service” that allows staff to order meals online. Under the program, staff use the hospital’s intranet site to view and print out each day’s menu. They then circle their meal choices and fax the page to the hospital’s kitchen. Meals are paid for through payroll deduction.

A YouTube video, designed for internal use only, instructs employees on the order and pick-up process.

“We wanted to be able to continue to provide meals for staff and visitors,” Ermer explains. “We looked at a number of options and this made the most sense. There is one menu for breakfast and another for lunch and dinner.”

Café Good To Go is located in the hospital’s lobby. Meals are prepared and packaged in the kitchen and delivered to the lobby, where employees can pick them up at prearranged times on the hour and half-hour.

“Visitors can come to the lobby and place orders as well,” Ermer notes. “Those meals are ready in 30 minutes.”

There are two outside tented areas, one on the side of the administration building and the other outside the hospital’s cancer center, where customers can eat their meals.

Ermer explains that the lobby location was chosen over two other options—delivering meals to the employees and setting up pick-up stations on each hospital floor.

“On the delivery, we got push back from the nurses, who were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to eat their meals when they were delivered, which created an issue of where to store the meals,” she says. “Putting a station on each floor would have been very labor-intensive.”

A few changes were implemented to help sell the new program, Ermer adds.

“We already had to-go packaging, but we bought some sturdier containers for this service,” she says. “On the menu, we made some improvements like making the sandwiches larger and more gourmet. And we bought new uniforms for the staff.”

Ermer acknowledges that Café Good To Go is not a perfect solution, noting that sales are only 30% of what they were before the cafeteria closed. “But it is working, and the most important thing is, we have kept all of our employees working through the renovation. We are considering keeping this function after the cafeteria reopens early next year.”

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