Bridging the Divide

By Becky Schilling, Editor

At many hospitals, the division between patient and retail foodservice is quite distinct; there are different staffs, production cycles and menus. At the 450-bed Truman Medical Center, the foodservice department, which is managed by Morrison Management Specialists, is piloting a concept that erases the line between patient and retail operations, with a concept called Blossom on 3rd.

Blossom on 3rd, Truman Medical CenterKANSAS CITY, Mo.—At many hospitals, the division between patient and retail foodservice is quite distinct; there are different staffs, production cycles and menus. At the 450-bed Truman Medical Center, the foodservice department, which is managed by Morrison Management Specialists, is piloting a concept that erases the line between patient and retail operations, with a concept called Blossom on 3rd.

Blossom on 3rd, located on the hospital’s third floor, combines an on-demand dining (room service) patient model with a retail outlet. Patients can order food from Blossom in several ways. They can call the café and place their order, which is then delivered by a floor steward. Patients can also place their orders with a floor steward when he or she visits the patient’s room. Floor stewards carry computer tablets to record patient meal selections and to place the order. Ambulatory patients can also go to the café to order their food, choosing to eat their meal in the café or take the food back to their rooms.
“If you think about foodservice at a hospital, typically what you see is one group that makes the patient food and another group that makes the food for the retail platforms,” said Jim DeVos, vice president of marketing and strategy for Morrison. “What we tried to do with Blossom is take that line and really erase it. Everybody eats the same food.”
Hospital staff and family members of patients on the third floor can also order meals from Blossom by visiting the café and ordering
food like at a traditional retail concept.

Blossom on 3rd, Truman Medical CenterDestination dining: “We are trying to create a different venue with Blossom,” said Jack Lawless, division vice president with Morrison. “It’s like destination dining without having to leave the building. Part of the strategy for us is to reach different audiences who are not participating in our retail programs to begin with. We hear that a lot of staff don’t have time to come down to the cafeteria and that’s part of the benefit with Blossom because we can bring the experience closer to them.”

The name Blossom came from creating this dining experience for patients, according to DeVos. “By having this concept where everybody was eating the same food, we felt like it would be a way to really elevate the perception of the food that we were serving to the patients by serving it to everybody,” DeVos said. “When we started to explore names, we started thinking about how this engages patients on their journey back to health. We wanted this to be a place that by virtue of making patients feel normal and giving them normal and human experiences with great tasting food that they would blossom.”

Blossom on 3rd, Truman Medical CenterLawless said, so far, that has been achieved. Three weeks after starting Blossom, patient satisfaction scores rose from the 80th percentile to the 99th percentile.

Blossom, which is 1,150 square feet, was constructed in an old visitors’ lounge. “If you go into most hospitals, probably the loneliest space on the floor is the visitors’ lounge,” DeVos said. “Hospitals are focused on patients, so the visitors’ lounge typically has [only] chairs and a TV and nobody goes in there. What our partners at Truman allowed us to do was take a visitors’ lounge on the third floor and convert it into a [kind of] mini Panera Bread.”

DeVos said the décor and lighting are similar to what is found at a Panera Bread-type concept. Blossom uses a lot of warm green and brown colors and the woods are warm brown with a hint of red. “It’s a very calming type of environment,” DeVos said. “Blossom is distinctive from the rest of the hospital. When you walk into this space you feel like you’re in a different place. Blossom is on the floor, but it’s not necessarily an extension of the floor.”

Digital signage is used in Blossom to denote what is being served for the current meal period. For customers who don’t want to wait for a meal to be prepared, there is a grab-and-go cooler with sandwiches and salads.

Because Blossom is on a patient floor, DeVos said the hospital had concerns about noise and smells coming from the café. To alleviate those concerns, Blossom was closed off by doors. “Before we went full board with the construction, we did some noise and smell testing,” DeVos said. “We brought up some induction cookers on the floor and tested the cooking part to see if we would have an issue with that. It’s not really loud
and the doors tend to deaden the sound.”

While DeVos said he understands the need to have Blossom behind closed doors, he said he prefers a more open design. “Because there isn’t a lot of noise or cooking smells, we’ve had to do a lot more directional signage so that people can find it,” he added.

Menu development: According to DeVos, one of the main elements of Blossom on 3rd is that the menu, which is the same for both patient and retail customers, can be cooked to order. “What we really wanted to be able to do is do freshly prepared food that would serve patients, staff and visitors at Blossom,” DeVos said. “We wanted Blossom to really help patients on the road back to humanity. If you think about a patient’s journey, it goes from horizontal to vertical. As a patient, it’s better as they progress back to health that they want to assume more and more control over their environment, and hospitals are not naturally conducive to that sort of desire.”

DeVos said that while Blossom’s design is borrowed from a Panera, the menu is much different. “We’re not a soup and sandwich kind of place,” he said. “Our menu is much broader. You can get pot roast, mashed potatoes and fresh green beans.”

There is a small production kitchen at Blossom, with TurboChef ovens, panini presses, induction burners and microwave ovens. DeVos said the menu was created so that a ventilation system would not be needed because installing that system on a patient floor would require more money and construction. Some of the food is cooked in the main
production kitchen and is rethermed and finished in the Blossom kitchen. Other food is prepared fresh. For example, an Asian stir-fry is offered at Blossom. The stir-fry components are prepped in the main kitchen and transported to the third floor, where the dish is cooked to order.

“Blossom is located pretty close to an employee elevator and to the main kitchen downstairs,” DeVos said. “We’ve got refrigeration, storage and a small freezer at Blossom. We try to stock for what we’ll need that day.”

Future prospects: The patient aspect of Blossom opened in December 2009 and the retail portion opened in April 2010. DeVos said the third floor was selected for the pilot because it’s a challenging floor—the patients are fairly sick—and if the concept worked well in difficult environment then it would work well on other floors.

DeVos said a large number of patients order meals through the floor stewards rather than calling in orders or coming to Blossom. He said this is function of the patients’ acuity on the third floor. “The patients are fairly sick when they are admitted,” he said. “What happens over time is that they get better and we see them at Blossom more. Our feeling is that if the concept works on a floor where you have patients who are sicker, then it will work well on a floor where you have patients who are more mobile, like a new moms’ floor.”

There is seating for 10 at Blossom, which DeVos said is enough for the third floor due to the acuity of the patients. He said that on other floors, like an obstetrics floor where the patients are more active, more seating will be needed.

Both DeVos and Lawless see the Blossom concept expanding. “The thing that we’ve always found in hospitals, if you look at the number of people going through the main dining area versus the number of people in the hospital that day, there is clearly an opportunity for growth in terms of capturing a greater percentage of the house,” DeVos said.

In the few months that the retail aspect of Blossom has been open, DeVos said that sales in the main cafeteria have remained constant, suggesting that the sales picked up at Blossom are new customers.

DeVos said Blossom is not overstretching its resources by offering service to one floor, and envisions a Blossom-type concept on every other floor if the pilot were to expand hospital wide. “I really think the value of Blossom is going to be using it as a whole-hospital solution because there are lots of economies that you can gain with it,” DeVos added.

While Lawless believes the concept can be expanded, he said the need for a main cafeteria will always be there. “I think that there will always be a larger central dining space,” he said. “[The main cafeteria] may be scaled down, but it will always be there and offer a little more variety.”