Small Changes Create Big Results

Elliot Hospital discovers the secret to tweaking services to fit customers’ needs.

FoodService Director - Elliot HospitalThe dream customer is one with simple tastes—someone who predictably wants basically the same item every day  and who has a penchant for upping his or her check average periodically when lured by the appeal of strategically placed impulse items.

The ideal customer base would comprise a bunch of these types, all like-minded, all predictably excited about what the foodservice operation had to offer. But a single operation in the real world, particularly in a non-commercial environment, must satisfy diverse needs in a highly segmented customer base, often in limited space with a limited budget.

The foodservice team at Elliot Hospital in Manchester, RI, has found ways to please just about everyone it serves these days. A combination of relatively small changes and initiatives have improved satisfaction scores on the patient side of the house, and given hospital staff and visitors reasons to smile—and spend more of their money in-house.

Getting personal: The two most significant changes foodservices made to the patient feeding piece of its business were the addition of a deli line so patients could customize their sandwich orders and the implementation of a breakfast buffet and room service in the hospital’s maternity unit last fall. “Maternity patient satisfaction really jumped up, by 20%,” reports food and nutrition services director Joe Stanislaw. Scores now hover around 90% to 95%.

He hopes to roll out room service hospital-wide later this year, but while the larger project needs a more extended planning period, bringing room service to the maternity unit seemed a manageable undertaking and a logical start.

“Last year, we renovated maternity—it’s a gorgeous new unit—and we thought we’d take advantage of that and do room service for that population,” says Stanislaw.

The morning daypart in the maternity unit kicks off with a breakfast buffet that has proven popular. “We can do this in maternity because most patients there are on regular diets,” says Stanislaw. “As part of the reconstruction on the wing, we made arrangements with the architect to build a large nourishment kitchen that acts as a hot/cold breakfast buffet in the morning from 7 to 9:30. Patients love it that way. They can decide exactly what and how much they want to eat.”

More choice: Patients order lunch and dinner, however, from a restaurant-style menu. They can also choose anything being served in the hospital’s cafeteria that day and let foodservices know when they want it delivered. It’s a service style proven to be a satisfaction-score booster, particularly in a maternity unit, where patients tend to be healthy and ambulatory. 

Stanislaw hopes to start purchasing equipment and software this summer in order to give patients throughout the hospital the same style of service.

FoodService Director - Elliot HospitalMeanwhile, all patients can take advantage of the deli station recently added to the kitchen’s tray line, so patients can customize sandwich orders. It’s one of many relatively small changes that helps keep Elliot Hospital fresh and on trend. “In the past patients didn’t have a real choice, but with the deli station they can customize and build their sandwiches any way they’d like,” he explains. “It’s a nicer quality of sandwich.”

On the retail side, a renovation of the hospital’s café, known as Elliot Commons, and subsequent changes to the menu have had a tremendous impact. “Last month we broke an all-time high,” says Stanislaw. “Sales have been phenomenal.”

Revenue boost: A robust pizza business that’s churning out 60 pies a day, sold by the slice; a made-to-order grill with a daily panini sandwich; and a gelato program featuring 12 flavors homemade daily and scooped to order have each played a role in driving retail volume.

 “The secret to our success is our incredible staff,” he adds. “They are always positive and ready to try new things. They never cease to amaze me as to what they can accomplish.”

The average check fluctuates between $2.85 and $3—low compared to market averages, but intentional. “The hospital views the cafeteria as an employee benefit; we are priced to cover our costs. In doing that we will generate about $1.5 million [compared to about $1.2 million last year],” reports Stanislaw. “Priced competitively, it would be a $2-million-plus operation.”

Last year, on a modest budget, foodservices captured the attention of visitor and hospital staff by transforming its dining room with Tuscan-themed décor and menu changes, despite having limited space, such as the building of the pizza program and more cook-to-order options at the grill.

Uptick at night: One segment of the customer base, however, was left out in the cold—or at least, their meals had to be kept cold since there were no foodservice employees to prepare hot items fresh for the 11 p.m.-to-7 a.m. staff population. That was until a few weeks ago, when the servery began opening for an hour-and-15-minute block of time to serve third-shift hospital employees.

“The service started off slow, but it continues to build, and now it’s not usual to have $225 nights,” says Stanislaw, who says that original projections had the service just breaking even at $125 a night.

Two cooks and a cashier come in to work the after-hours service and serve a menu of assorted breakfast items, fresh-made pizza and a selection of grab-and go-salads and sandwich plates. Stanislaw says he sometimes adds to the menu for the sake of variety, but finds third-shifters have a preference for the pizza and breakfast menu including omelets, pancakes, French toast, egg sandwiches, bagels and muffins.

“They are thrilled,” he says of the late-night customers. “It makes a big difference to the morale.”