Becky Hassinger: Elevating the Experience

Foodservices gets a face-lift at the University of Missouri Health Care.

By Becky Schilling, Editor

Accomplishments

BECKY HASSINGER has remade foodservices at the UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI HEALTH CARE by:

  • Renovating the system’s main retail locations to improve service and traffic flow and to create a comfortable dining environment
  • Focusing on healthier eating by removing fryers and using better-for-you applications
  • Implementing room service, which increased patient satisfaction
  • Revamping the patient menu to include a staple of favorites and a rotating selection of seasonal specials 

Creating an enjoyable dining atmosphere is essential in any foodservice operation. It’s especially important in a hospital, where life-and-death decisions are made every day. Becky Hassinger, manager of dining and nutrition services at the University of Missouri Health Care, in Columbia, has done everything possible to make that happen throughout the hospital. During the past couple of years she has renovated every major retail location in some way. She also has implemented room service to elevate the patient meal experience.

“Becky really likes taking something that could be better and working with our team to mold those foodservice areas into something that is better,” says Director of Support Services Roger Higginbotham, Hassinger’s boss. “Hospital food was not always at the top of anybody’s list. Becky wants our customers to have the best food that they can. She’s always looking at the experience. We try to create a place where people can unwind for a little bit and experience good food.”

Hassinger is in charge of foodservice for all locations in the system, except the orthopedic center. That includes retail and patient services at the 307-bed University Hospitals and 156-bed Women’s & Children’s Hospital.

Retail renovations: The first retail revamp occurred in the University Hospital, the system’s main facility. The dining location in that hospital, Main Street Café, was a sit-down, full-service restaurant. The café also offered an all-you-can-eat buffet, which was loaded with items that wouldn’t be considered healthy fare, especially in a hospital setting.

“The renovation was long overdue,” Hassinger says. “[The type of service offered there] was something that used to be the thing, but it’s not something hospitals have done in several years. Most hospital staff don’t have time to come down and take a leisurely lunch. They come down and grab something [because they] need to get back up to the floor.”

In addition to the café not offering the type of service most hospital employees needed to accommodate their busy schedules, for those people who could dine in, table turnover time was often an issue. “Because we had waiter/waitress service it took so long, and there [often] would be a line out the door,” she says.

The traffic backup problem was only going to get worse. A new tower is opening in the spring of 2013, and no foodservice location is going into that location. The new tower, which will feature 90 private rooms, will house the system’s cancer center. The current cancer center’s location will close, including a retail outlet that was in that building. With the influx of staff and visitors coming to the main hospital once the tower opens, Hassinger knew she needed to improve services at the foodservice locations at University Hospital.

In 2010, Main Street Café was overhauled into what Hassinger likens to a quick-service, Panera-like location named Essentials. Items are cooked to order.

Customers receive a pager to let them know when their order is ready. During peak times, food is ready in 10 minutes, a much faster time than service before for those employees who need to grab something on the run.

The menu changed significantly. Whereas Main Street Café offered typical Midwestern fare like country fried steak and biscuits and gravy, at Essentials grab-and-go items are heavily featured and the menu is peppered with flatbread pizzas, artisan sandwiches, sushi and smoothies.

The menu and service style weren’t the only things that were changed. The décor also got a major refresh. Hassinger says the café received mini face-lifts during the years, with a new coat of paint or carpet, but a major overhaul had never been done during her 20 years with the system. With the service change, new equipment was purchased and the space was redesigned to be a relaxing area highlighted with natural colors, plants and soft lighting.

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