Unstaffed c-store grows hospital business

New micro-mart at Magee Women’s Hospital feeds second-, third-shift employees.

Published in Healthcare Spotlight

Giving employees access to foodservice when your cafeteria is closed has long been a challenge for foodservice operators, particularly in hospitals, where there are employees working around the clock. Vending is always an option, but it usually is not perceived in the best light.

Another option is to take the route used by Chris Vitsas, director of food and nutrition for Sodexo at Magee Women’s Hospital, in Pittsburgh. When Magee renovated its cafeteria recently, Vitsas took the opportunity to create a self-service “micro-mart” within the cafeteria itself. It operates between 3 p.m. and 6 a.m., seven days a week, and requires no staff.

Although Vitsas did not share revenue figures, he notes that the three-month-old concept already has paid for itself.

“When I interviewed here,” Vitsas recalled, “I was told, ‘We close our cafeteria at 3 p.m. and we have a secondary location that closes at 8:30 p.m. How would you feed the midnight shift?’”

Vitsas had read some articles in various trade publications about the concept of an unstaffed retail space that used open-air coolers instead of vending machines. He proposed a spin-off of that idea that would make use of existing space.

The micro-mart area of the cafeteria uses two open-air merchandisers stocked with a variety of freshly made entrées, sandwiches, salads, yogurt and snacks, marketed under Sodexo’s Simply To Go program.

Access to the cafeteria after hours is controlled by employees’ key cards—the micro-mart is not open to the public—and nine strategically located cameras help track employees’ movements and discourage theft.

Employees simply choose their items, scan them at the payment kiosk and complete their purchase using a credit card or a biometric account they set up.

“The food is top quality because we make it in house daily,” Vitsas explains. “The other neat thing about this is staff can just go in and use the seating area to take a break.”

He adds that the hospital has had no incidences of theft since the micro-mart was installed.

“We do inventory in the cafeteria at 3 p.m., and then we do inventory again at 6 a.m.,” Vitsas says. “If there is any variance between what was sold in the micro-mart and our count, we can simply go to the videotape and find out who stole. We’ve had no theft.”

To introduce staff to the idea, foodservice employees staffed the micro-mart the first three nights to walk customers through the process and answer any questions.

“We also have step-by-step instructions by the register, and on our website we have a step-by-step explanation as well,” he notes.

The installation of the micro-mart coincided with the renovation of the cafeteria, which has brought in a couple of new stations.

“We now have a hearth oven pizza station where we do a variety of specialty items such as pizzas, quesadillas and baked pastas and we took our salad bar and really blew it up so that it is the center of attention as soon as you walk into the room,” he explains.

The salad bar fits in well with Magee’s focus on fresh produce—and at the hospital many of the vegetables are as fresh as it gets, because they are grown in an organic garden on the hospital grounds. The garden, which is open to patients and visitors as a healing garden, grows five types of tomatoes, tomatillos, bell peppers, sweet peppers, hot peppers, potatoes beets, Swiss chard, squash, zucchini, eggplant, onions, cucumbers, green beans, carrots, leeks and peas. Basil, thyme, oregano, rosemary, chives and garlic chives, cilantro, and flat and curly parsley are also grown in the space. Last growing season, the hospital grew more than 2,100 pounds of vegetables and herbs.

“At the same time, we introduced a new menu, which is part of Sodexo’s “Mindful” program,” Vitsas adds. “We have lowered the amount of beef menued by 10%, poultry by 7% and pork by 3%, while at the same time increasing the vegetarian options by 22%.”

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