Two diverse institutions, one common result: Grab and go is increasing in volume.
Gritman Medical Center, in Moscow, Idaho, and Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland couldn’t be more different. One is a small, critical access hospital in the Pacific Northwest; the other an 18,000-student two-year school on the East Coast. Yet the foodservice departments of both institutions have realized success by adding, or expanding, grab-and-go service.
Gritman Medical Center: The foodservice department at Gritman has enhanced both its stature and its top line with the simple addition of a grab-and-go cooler in its small cafeteria. Coordinator of Foodservice Erin Richardson says Courtyard Express, as it is called, is succeeding because it is satisfying the needs of employees working evening shifts and people who’d rather take food home than cook dinner.
Courtyard Express is a 7-foot-high cooler that holds beverages, sandwiches, salads, fruit, snacks and some packaged entrées for home-meal replacement. Richardson says the cooler is generating between $500 and $600 a day in revenue, impressive for a critical access hospital—Gritman’s average daily census is about 25.
“We were trying to implement room service in our kitchen,” says Richardson, a native of the Bay Area, about the genesis of Courtyard Express. “I took it upon myself to visit some hospitals in California. One of the trends I was seeing was the move toward more grab and go. In our cafeteria we had a large table that held beverage machines, and it was just creating congestion. So we moved it out to the coffee area and replaced it with the cooler.”
The majority of Gritman’s cafeteria business is conducted at breakfast and lunch, and Courtyard Express provides more options for those customers, Richardson notes. Sandwiches are made fresh daily using local breads, and salads also use locally grown items whenever possible. The foodservice department, managed by director Nancy Kure, tries to buy local as much as it can; a hog and steer were recently purchased and butchered for use in the hospital’s kitchen.
For late afternoon and evening service, the department will prepare family-size portions of popular foods, such as macaroni and cheese and stews. Take-and-bake pizzas can be ordered early in the day for evening pickup.
“This also gives us the opportunity to use items that are left over from lunch,” Richardson explains. “We can package them up for home-meal replacement.” She adds that since the addition of Courtyard Express, evening sales have risen from $50 to “a couple of hundred dollars.”
Interestingly, Richardson advertises Courtyard Express’s home-meal replacement service on the hospital’s Facebook page. Although healthcare foodservice in general is a segment that has not yet embraced social media, she explains that marketing in this manner makes perfect sense to her.
“The demographic we’re trying to reach is women making food decisions, and research says those women are using Facebook.”
Anne Arundel Community College: For this 18,000-student commuter school, take-away foods are making up an increasing portion of business for the college’s foodservice department. Wanda Grace, general manager for AACC Dining Services, says the department this year increased the number of grab-and-go outlets on campus from five to eight.
“The No. 1 reason for doing this is the fact that it is so expeditious for the students to just go and pick something up to take with them,” says Grace. “They have so little time between classes, and they don’t spend much time on campus when classes are done.
“Also, with grab-and-go cases we have the ability to put out more items that are cost-effective for us. For example, half sandwiches have become very popular here. We can’t do them to order, but we make them up ahead and wrap them for takeout. Students say they like the sandwiches because a half sandwich is healthier and easier to eat.”
Grace added, however, that some students enjoy half sandwiches for another reason: “It increases variety. You can choose half of one type of sandwich and half of another, instead of buying a whole sandwich.”
Half sandwiches, at $2.50, were introduced last year; nearly 20,000 were sold. So successful was this idea that, late in the year, Grace added, “Skinny-Minnies,” half sandwiches on flatbreads, for $2.95.
“The cases have done so well that, when renovating one of our small kiosk areas, we opted to go with all grab-and-go cases in lieu of made-to-order sandwiches,” she notes.
“This allowed us to cut our labor in half and still maintain excellent sales. It frees up staff to make more espresso drinks as well.”
Other popular items have included small Caesar salads ($1.75), and yogurt, granola and fruit parfaits ($1.75).
“We also pre-pack “heat-and-eat” chicken tenders with dipping sauce, mac and cheese with meatballs, grilled cheese with turkey and ham, cheeseburgers, chicken sandwiches and breakfast sandwiches,” she adds.
“The cases have been tremendous in helping to keep down the lines at the deli, expediting customers through the servery and allowing microwaveable items in those
locations without a grill/fry area. We also placed a grab-and-go case in the bookstore, which is adjacent to our main dining area. We provision the case from our main kitchen.
The bookstore is open later in the evening and on weekends, so students, faculty and staff have fresh, premade products available even when our food operations are closed.”
Editor’s note: In the cover story of our November issue, “Getting it To Go,” we reported on a program at Paradise Valley Hospital, Scottsdale, Ariz., where the foodservice department was planning to introduce takeout meals for cardiac and diabetic patients. Foodservice Director Jean Revard announced that the hospital launched “Health for Life Meals To Go” on Dec. 1. The meals are available twice a week and must be ordered two days in advance of pickup. The meals, which cost $5.50, contain four ounces of meat or other protein, and no more than 450 calories, 600 milligrams of sodium and 10 grams of fat. Meal choices include grilled chicken breast, rosemary pork loin, herb-baked cod and beef pot roast.