Renovation Brings Foodservice up to Speed

Kansas Heart Hospital redesigns kitchen and cafeteria for improved efficiency and flow.

Traffic flow was improved. Cashiers are now located at
the end of the service line instead of the beginning.

WICHITA, Kan.—When Kansas Heart Hospital, an acute care hospital specializing in cardiovascular services, was opened in 1999, the kitchen was designed to serve the hospital’s 23-bed capacity. Although the hospital has since expanded to 54 beds, the foodservice facility remained virtually unchanged—until this summer. That’s when the hospital renovated the kitchen and cafeteria at a cost of $250,000.

“A little over a year ago, we realized that the space was no longer meeting our needs, and quite frankly, it was outdated,” says Joyce Heismeyer, chief operating officer.

The cafeteria needed a face-lift; the kitchen needed new equipment and better organization to make it more functional for the dietary staff. The “sell” to hospital administration, adds Heismeyer, “was trying to determine at what level we renovate. Do we expand beyond the walls or do modifications within the current structure?”

Same space, new design: Ultimately, the decision was made to keep the same square footage—about 2,500 square feet of combined kitchen and dining space—but to change everything inside the space. Apart from three combi ovens that were added three years ago, everything else in the kitchen and cafeteria was replaced or redone. The renovation began in mid-July and was completed in early September; a punch list of details, such as touch-up painting, decorating and furniture delivery, is not yet complete.

There are roughly 80 to 160 patient meals served daily and about 350 to 450 daily retail transactions, says Steve Brown, dietary manager, who’s been with the hospital since it opened. The cafeteria is popular not just with hospital staff and guests but also with local business people and college students. Throughout the entire project, the kitchen continued to serve patients and guests, presenting some unique challenges.

“The biggest thorn in our side during the renovation was that the walk-in [cooler] went down during the process,” says Brown. Insurance costs were too high for the hospital to bring in a back-up cooler on a truck, he adds, so foodservice used about 1,200 pounds of dry ice to keep items frozen until the walk-in could be repaired a week later.

Refrigeration in general was one of the main reasons the renovation was needed, says Brown. The walk-in was actually a combination freezer and cooler, with a wall separating the two sections. The door was continually being opened and closed, making it nearly impossible to maintain the necessary temperatures. “It put a big strain on the units,” says Brown.  

The solution was to remove the dividing wall and install a new condensing unit to make one large-sized cooler. New racks make it easier to see and track inventory. “I try to keep inventory as low as possible,” says Brown. “We date and label every product as it comes in. It’s first in, first out.”

An additional 10-by-12-foot freezer was built right outside the kitchen, almost doubling the kitchen’s freezer space. Even though it’s outside, says Brown, it’s not inconvenient. “We have an upright freezer in the kitchen that we stock before and after lunch for quick demand.”

The outside freezer also presents the foodservice staff with more purchasing options. “I didn’t have the storage space for 6 to 10 cases of product before,” notes Brown. “Now, when I go to food shows, I feel comfortable placing larger orders because I have the room.”

Another pre-renovation obstacle was the fact that the kitchen had only one sink. The project included the addition of a second sink for thawing and food preparation, says Brown, which increases productivity during busy times.

Along with food prep and storage, the renovation adjusted traffic flow and accessibility for guests and staff. For example, storage cabinets that had been situated underneath the serving line were relocated to another part of the servery. Also, the tray drop-off area was made more accessible and much closer to the dish machine.

Customer traffic flow was altered to make the servery easier to navigate. In the old servery, customers had to backtrack to the front of the cafeteria to pay for their meals. In the new design, customers move in one direction from entrance to checkout. “By flipping it, we reversed the backflow from before. Everything moves down the line more smoothly now toward the register,” says Brown.

New equipment—mobile and practical: Equipment on the front line has been changed from fixed to mobile, making both repairs and cleaning simpler. “We can clean and maintain the equipment better and keep the kitchen overall cleaner. It’s easier to get under the exhaust hood,” says Brown.

Even the way cafeteria food is promoted has been improved. “Before, to show what the specials were, we put out a plate with actual food; I didn’t like that,” says Brown. “The food doesn’t look good two to three hours after display.” Now, photos of the daily specials are displayed on a new digital menu board.

A fresh face: The dining area itself was redesigned to be more open and inviting, says Brown. The “late ’90’s décor”—linoleum surfaces with white tiles on the floor and dark blue counters—was replaced by warmer browns and crèmes and larger, ceramic tiles on the floor in natural hues evoking an earthier feel. The tabletops will be a warmer brown laminate and the chairs will be an ivory color in a modern design.

One unexpected benefit to the renovation was its impact on employees. “The staff is very encouraged,” says Brown. “They see us trying to make their environment better and working conditions more enjoyable. All of my employees think it’s easier to work in the new kitchen and cafeteria.”

Employees will also be getting uniforms; before, staff members wore their own smocks. Now everyone will be dressed similarly in blue shirts and dark slacks.