Hospital Food: Expanding Beyond Patients into Retail
The phrase “hospital food” has historically evoked images of simple meals served on segmented trays. However, nutrition is vital to recovery, and many foodservice professionals strive to elevate the patient’s dining experience by expanding healthcare menus with fresh ideas and restaurant-quality options. Moreover, it is crucial to remember that hospital food fuels not only patients but also guests, visitors, and staff.
The Retail Side
There are various scenarios in a hospital setting for someone to obtain food in a retail dining operation. For example:
- Guests visiting their loved ones for extended periods of time that need a convenient place to eat.
- Caregivers that want to save time and stay on-premises for their break.
- Local visitors drawn to a cafeteria for well-known specials developed by creative chefs.
Whatever the case, the retail experience has two major components: efficiency and satisfaction. Efficiency ensures maximum throughput, meaning the operation serves as many patrons as possible. This ties in directly with satisfaction; customers are much more likely to return if they receive items in a timely manner. Careful menu planning, thoughtful ingredient sourcing, and attractive flavors will also contribute to a patron’s experience.
The retail environment itself can also contribute much to a patron’s perception of hospital food. A cafeteria can be described as a “third place,” as it is neither home (first) nor work (second).1 Third places are significant within communities, as they present opportunities for recreation and socialization.
The third-place nature of a hospital food retail establishment is essential for caregivers. Mealtime can be a rare moment of peace for hardworking healthcare heroes. How can operators protect this precious time for their staff?
A robust point-of-sale (POS) system can streamline customer transactions and broaden payment options. Additionally, the POS system should integrate with the overall foodservice management software to capture analytical data. Info like post-meal counts can then be leveraged for forecasting, leading to waste reduction and budget protection.
Online ordering is no longer “nice to have” – it is necessary in our post-pandemic world. Placing orders ahead of time can help patrons skip queues, thereby boosting satisfaction. For caregivers, it means even more. Short breaks may only give them half an hour or less to grab some hospital food, eat, and return to work. With a contactless ordering solution, staff can spend less time waiting and more time resting, meaning higher-quality patient care. The convenience of online ordering also helps to encourage employees to stay on-site instead of looking elsewhere for meals.
Other Features to Consider
While there are many other considerations when seeking retail software solutions, it can be helpful to start with the following:
Account management allows staff to self-manage their charge accounts, i.e., payroll deduction, gift cards, and declining balances. As a result, retail employees can expedite external customer transactions. Plus, with enhanced control over hosted payments, caregivers will feel engaged and empowered to fund their accounts.
Customer loyalty programs can incentivize patrons and keep them coming back for more. By offering points on retail hospital food and beverage purchases, retail dining operators can reward repeat customers as well as healthy choices.
Mobile-friendly technology is critical for on-the-go ordering, account management, and access to rewards. A comprehensive solution will combine all these features in a single, easy-to-use application for maximum convenience and satisfaction.
Self-checkout may be viable for operators who want to offer control to independent, tech-savvy patrons. Since one employee can supervise multiple terminals simultaneously, self-service kiosks can alleviate labor challenges. Prepackaged and labeled items will streamline the process even further, giving customers a speedy grab-and-go option.
Hospital Food Reimagined
Healthcare facilities have many unique opportunities to expand their hospital food offerings into retail environments. Retail operators can establish reputable brands within their communities by implementing proper POS, online ordering, account management, and loyalty program solutions. By embracing a third-place mentality, operations can set up their caregivers for success so that they can provide the highest-quality patient care.
 Butler SM, Diaz C. 14 Sep 2016. The Brookings Institution. “‘Third places’ as community builders.” https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2016/09/14/third-places-as-community-builders/. Accessed 31 Mar 2023.