A mere 3 years ago, employees and patient families looking to grab a meal only had 1 option on the hospital’s Akron campus – the traditional cafeteria known as the Kids’ Café on the hospital’s third floor. Fast forward to 2019 and not only are there additional places to eat on campus (the Kay Kafé located in the Kay Jewelers Pavilion and the Smucker’s Bistro in the Considine Professional Building), the menus cater to what people want.
According to Jim Woost, Kids’ Café manager, “Food fads come and go and tastes change. We’ve had to change what we serve through the years to accommodate for that.”
Changes in taste are what drove the Food Services department to revamp its superhero-themed patient room service menu. Now offering breakfast all day options and à la carte items on a restaurant-style menu, patients can order on demand and not only during designated breakfast, lunch and dinner times.
“We added made-to-order omelets, seasonal fresh fruit, Greek yogurt, oatmeal with toppings, grain bowls and hummus and pita chips to name a few,” said Donna Fleck, who recently retired as director of support services. “People want things made with the ingredients they like. They want more of a say in how their food is prepared.”
Jim says the café menus have likewise evolved to cater to people’s tastes.
“The Kids’ Café offers fresh sandwiches, a grill, 2 entrees, Seattle’s Best™ coffee, hot sides, soups, salads, a sauté station, Well Smart combos and gluten- and nut-free options daily,” he said. “Our smaller cafés serve specialty brand coffee, soup, grab-and-go options and made-to-order sandwiches, salads and smoothies.”
Subscribing to the hospital’s use of Lean principles – creating more value for customers while eliminating waste – Donna says the idea is to get the customer served quickly.
“In the Kay and Smucker’s cafés our employees are known as culinary associates,” she said. “They are all trained to make coffee, run the cash register, wash dishes or take out the trash so they can jump in wherever needed to expedite the customer’s experience.”
Donna understands the importance of having staff with varied backgrounds who can evaluate menu items for nutrition content and what people want.
“As a dietitian, I’m focused on nutrition content, but the chefs/foodies help balance that with the kinds of foods that will also sell,” she said.
Food Services supervisor, Audra Arnold, says some of the cafeteria’s best sellers remain the old fashioned standbys.
“People go crazy for our homemade meatloaf, mac and cheese and chicken parmesan,” she said. “And, we could serve mashed potatoes every day – that’s how much people love them.”
From a nutrition standpoint, Donna says everything in moderation.
“We have tried to lighten things up,” she said. “Our catering is doing more soup, salad and baked potato bars. We have gotten away from full-size meals because people don’t tend to eat that way anymore. Even our dessert portion sizes have changed and are smaller. We have put them in the back in the Kid’s Café per customers’ requests as they were too tempting when you are hungry and it is the first thing you see. The area has been replaced with salads and high-protein snacks.”
Jim says the department does a lot of benchmarking to make sure prices and offerings are comparable to other local institutions.
“Compared to other places we offer more items, are open more hours and our prices are similar,” he said of the hospital’s food venues.
After 31 years of service to the hospital, Donna retired on May 9. She knows she left her department in good hands and is excited about what the future holds for food services.
“The sauté station in the Kids’ Café will be going through a renovation with everything made-to-order by our chefs – offering a more interactive experience for our customers,” she said. “Down the road, we also hope to introduce an app where people can order and pay for their food online. It’s all about offering convenience and keeping up with what our customers want.
“The best part of my job has been working with my staff who makes these changes possible,” she added.