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
Becky Hassinger, University of Missouri Health CareCreating 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.
When Essentials opened, however, not everyone was thrilled with the changes. The fryer was removed, along with the all-you-can-eat buffet. Hassinger says people were hesitant to dine in Essentials because of the new push toward healthier items. “There were staff who were angry that we took away the all-you-can-eat buffet,” she says. “Becky isn’t scared to take on some things that could be controversial,”
Higginbotham says about the decision to remove the fryer. “She’s done a good job at coming up with better-for-you options for fried foods, like using the charbroiler. We met some resistance early on when we opened Essentials. Becky quickly won people over with the quality of food.”
After a somewhat slow start, daily transactions at Essentials have increased 88% over its predecessor.
Oasis: The next retail location to see an overhaul was The 404 Diner, in the Women’s & Children’s Hospital. The retail space was gutted and reopened earlier this year with a new name—Oasis—and a new, more pleasant dining experience for customers. Soft lighting, plants and natural colors also are heavily prominent in Oasis. Transactions have increased 5% since Oasis opened in June.
Traffic flow had been a problem at The 404 Diner. During the renovation, the space was reconfigured to better accommodate diners. The location features four stations: Sizzle (charbroiler and flat-top griddle for burgers and sandwiches made to order); Creations (stir-fry, rice bowls, noodle bowls and entrée salads); Homestyle (comfort foods like meatloaf, mashed potatoes and green beans); and Cabana (pizza, sandwiches, soup and Smoothies).
During slower times, at night and on weekends, Cabana turns into a one-station show, with all food coming from this area. “There is so much variety there, and we can save on labor and not have to staff all of these stations during our slow periods,” Hassinger says.
The fryer was eliminated from what was to become Oasis, and it also got the heave-ho during a mini renovation completed this year in the main hospital’s other retail location, The Grill Downstairs.
“This renovation was what our engineering department likes to call a ‘blue sky’ project. It’s something that falls out of the blue sky,” Hassinger says. Specifically, engineers discovered there was a problem with the exhaust hood and ductwork, which would require closing down a section of the eatery and replacing the exhaust system.
Hassinger used this as an opportunity to make some other changes at The Grill Downstairs. Once again, she removed the fryer, replacing it with a combi oven and charbroiler. She also repositioned the equipment so that staff would no longer have to turn their backs to customers while taking and making their orders. Since reopening in August, transactions in The Grill Downstairs have increased 2%.
With all the renovations on the retail side in the past few years, it should come as no surprise that Hassinger says the opening of these projects is one of her most rewarding moments on the job. “I thoroughly enjoy all the renovation projects in the retail area,” she says. “I like doing anything I can to improve services for our patients, visitors and staff.”
Higginbotham says that being able to create changes is one of Hassinger’s greatest strengths. “She is very good at having a concept in her head and being able to make that concept come alive, not just on paper but in reality,” he says. “She is very hands-on [during these projects]. Becky is always trying to make things better. She’s always trying to be innovative. She’s not one to let problems overtake her. She tries to figure out what’s coming down the road and figures out how to prepare for that.”
Patient satisfaction: One of the areas Higginbotham says his foodservice director has shown ingenuity is in patient service. Hassinger understood early on the potential of room service, offering it for new mothers in 2003. By 2008, every patient in the system was being served via room service. Since starting room service, patient satisfaction has improved from the 27th percentile to the 77th percentile at University Hospital and 99th percentile at Women’s & Children’s.
In January, Hassinger decided to revamp the patient menu. The popular items were kept and an 11-day rotating daily specials menu was added to give patients more variety. The daily specials menu changes with the season. Some items offered on that special menu include lemon dill salmon with vegetable orzo pasta and lemon pepper tilapia served with seasonal roasted vegetables.
In keeping with her healthy initiatives on the retail side, Hassinger says she plans to remove fryers from the patient food prep area soon.