Providing VIP service

New York City hospital opens floor dedicated to serving high-profile patients. FoodService Director - New York-Presbyterian/Weill CornellProviding good service means that you have to satisfy your customers, and not every customer has the same wants and needs, so programs need to be tailored to meet the expectations of different groups. This is something the foodservice department at 856-bed New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City has done. In July, the hospital opened a new VIP floor. The floor has its own dedicated kitchen and staff and the menus rival those at any of the city’s five-star restaurants, says Laura Robinson, site administrator for food and nutrition, and Michael DeFilippo, operations manager for food and nutrition.

“We have a fairly large international clientele and they were requesting a higher level of service and special attention,” Robinson says. “Of course, we also get a lot of other VIPs and we wanted to be able to serve them in the level of service that they are accustomed to. This has given us the opportunity to utilize some of the best nutrition practices that maybe we haven’t been able to use because of financial restraints and the volume we usually have for the rest of the patients.”

The VIP floor, which is on the 14th floor, is a new venture for the hospital. Robinson says there were special suites for VIP patients, but nothing as big as the VIP floor. “The 14th floor was the roof,” Robinson says. “They built a whole additional floor.”

A team of two executive chefs, two sous chefs, five cooks and nine servers provide service to the new floor. The kitchen is located on the 12th floor, so a dumbwaiter system is used to transport food from the kitchen to the 14th floor. The food is received in a finishing pantry, where cold products, beverages and flatware are added to the tray.

Meal delivery also received an upgrade from the usual patient service. “We have a dedicated waitstaff up on the unit and they go to patient rooms in the morning and check on the patients continually,” Robinson says. “The waitstaff go in before breakfast and take their breakfast orders. They get an idea of when the patients would like to eat and what meal they would like. The meals are brought up restaurant style. We are not doing it as a full tray like some other institutions. We are doing it in courses.”

Breakfast is served on the VIP floor between 7 and 10:30 a.m. The offerings include cold and hot cereal, bakery items such as fresh breads, English muffins and croissants, eggs cooked any style, seasonal frittatas, create-your-own omelets, pancakes, French toast, sides including applewood smoked bacon, sausage links, turkey bacon and cottage cheese, fresh fruits and nuts, yogurts and an assortment of beverages.

Lunch is served between 11:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Menu options for lunch include a selection of soups, salads, sandwiches, grill items including an Angus burger and grilled chicken al mattone (chicken under a brick), and entrée selections including a certified Angus New York strip steak, veal Milanese and a grilled salmon filet.

FoodService Director - New York-Presbyterian/Weill CornellBetween 5:30 and 8:30 p.m. patients can order dinner, which is broken into four courses: soup and salad, appetizer, entrée and dessert. Sample appetizers include grilled Mediterranean shrimp, fresh mozzarella with grilled eggplant and roasted peppers, and steamed asparagus with scallions and boiled egg salad. The entrée selection includes seared lamb chops with scaffata, braised peas, fava beans, zucchini, asparagus and mint, and red snapper served with olives, capers and tomatoes. The dessert selection includes panna cotta with seasonal berries, lemon tiramisu with roasted pears, and grapes in moscato and vanilla syrup with vanilla gelato.

“We have set menus to choose from, but if a patient sees that we have a certain cut of veal on the menu and they want something different, we will prepare anything that they ask for,” DeFilippo says. “The chef is working very closely with a clinical dietitian to adjust the recipes to meet the diet criteria. We aren’t saying no to anything. We look at is this way: We are in New York City and if somebody asks for something, even if we don’t have it in house, we can run to the store and buy whatever ingredients we need and come back and prepare everything fresh to order.”

Patients on the VIP floor have a table and chairs in their rooms to eat at if they are feeling well enough to get out of bed. The VIP floor does not accept patients who require ICU care, and maternity patients are not currently accepted, but Robinson says she hopes to add maternity patients to the floor. In addition, patients can reserve the floor’s dining room, where a patient and his family and friends will be served as if at a restaurant.

Patients on the VIP floor are not only served the three daily meals but also morning brunch and afternoon tea. Brunch includes Greek yogurt, fresh-squeezed juice, fresh fruit and danishes. Afternoon tea offers artisan teas, fresh fruit, fresh-baked bread and finger sandwiches. “Our chefs are very creative. They use a basic template and they mix and match items every day so that it looks new and fresh,” DeFilippo says.

Robinson says these services are designed to elevate the level of service to VIP floor patients. “We hear that patients would like to have more offerings between meals,” she says. “We try to do other variations for our other patients as far as snack carts and things along those lines, but this is really a higher level of service that we are able to do for these patients.”

Brunch and tea are offered in the floor’s sitting areas, which overlook a picturesque view of Manhattan. “If you visit the floor, it’s like walking along any corridor of any
luxury hotel in Manhattan,” DeFilippo says. “It’s on the 14th floor, so the views are spectacular. We have a great view of the East River and the 59th Street Bridge and you can see the Brooklyn Bridge from here. There are huge windows all the way around.”

Even in the short amount of time the VIP floor has been operating, DeFilippo says they are already looking to make improvements. “The kitchen really isn’t equipped for the type of menu we are offering right now, so within the next two months, we are going to undergo a kitchen renovation and we are going to replace a lot of the equipment,” he says. “Because we are on a patient floor, we are not allowed to have gas on the floor, so all of our equipment is electric. We are working with a commercial electric range and we
are having trouble with the amount of time it takes to get the burners hot. We are going to switch all of that out and put in an induction system.”

Robinson says they are also hoping to use the VIP floor as a pilot of sorts for the rest of the hospital. The VIP floor is using cook-serve preparation while the rest of the hospital is using cook-chill preparation. Robinson says depending on how the cook-serve method works on the VIP floor, the rest of the hospital could switch from cook-chill preparation.

Robinson adds that the department hopes to expand Ross Posmentier’s executive chef role. “He is doing only the 14th floor right now, but we hope to expand his role once we are running for a longer period of time. We want him to help broaden our other patient menus and maybe go to our other campuses."