Drew Allen didn’t hesitate when asked what he expects of noncommercial dining in the future. “Change,” he says. “We have to change with the times and what our guests are looking for.”
Allen, the director of culinary services at Otterbein Senior Lifestyle Choices in Lebanon, Ohio, says the more the residents and guests at Otterbein change, the more diverse eating habits his team has the chance to explore. One of those changing habits, he says, is diners’ growing desire for portable, made-to-order items. That’s a theme borne out by data, too—and is true across dayparts. Roughly 67% of today’s consumers say the overall takeout capabilities of their preferred foodservice establishment is either important or very important, according to Technomic’s Consumer Brand Metrics.
Stations built for speed
“People want things faster and faster, whether it’s an employee or student wanting a lunch break,” says Seth Grant, associate director of culinary services and business operations at Indiana-based Eskenazi Health. To address that need, his team implemented action stations that are open 24 hours on weekdays at Eskenazi’s Ingram Micro Mobility Marketplace. The stations serve portable items ranging from salad to nachos, and a take-home taco bar is an additional option. Grant says he’s seen guests get in and out of the dining area in under 12 minutes using the stations.
Although the stations serve one at a time, Eskenazi also caters to guests feeding more of a crowd. Staff seeking a takeout option for their families can pick up to-go meals, which serve up to five people and cost less than $20, at the end of the work day. Further promoting portability, Eskenazi partners with a local produce company that specializes in affordable grab-and-go options such as fruit plates, which are for sale in the marketplace.
Health at the ready
Operators are also responding to diner demand for better-for-you items they can eat on the run. Florida-based Lee Health has a health-focused station called VeggieFare, at which customers can order whole-food, plant-based meals, as well as some made with meat, says Larry Altier, system director of food and nutrition at the facility. “The meals are assembled fresh to order, and wait time is usually less than 10 minutes.”
Looking to the future, Altier says Lee Health will soon launch a line of vegan grab-and-go meals, including quinoa breakfast bowls and oatmeal.