BUILT.: Modernizing the Foodservice Offerings at Palos Community Hospital

From stark white walls and generic uniforms to outdated cafeterias, hospitals aren’t exactly known for being modern, warm, or the most appealing, if you will. In this episode of “BUILT.,” in partnership with FCSI The Americas, we explore how Palos Community Hospital in Palos Heights, IL, has modernized their foodservice offerings for employees and patients alike with the help of FCSI consultant Christine Guyott, RD.

“Typical foodservice in a hospital was polar opposite of what a dining experience in a restaurant would be, where people would actually pay for their dining experience,” says Katie Freese, director of patient access at Palos Community Hospital (PCH). “Presentation has not necessarily been placed on [the] foodservice department.”

The PCH team saw an opportunity. “As we gathered for some of the construction meetings, it really dawned on us that we had an opportunity here to really redefine the entire department,” says Cheri Boublis, director of hospitality services at the hospital. “The old cafeteria was located in the basement and “kind of dingy,” admits Randy Oles, vice president of support services at Palos Community Hospital.

That’s when the Palos team decided to bring in Guyott to put the pieces together and help to create the vision — both aesthetically and operationally. “FCSI consultants are passionate about foodservice, whether it’s operations or design,” says Guyott. “We’re there to make sure that the foodservice operator gets what they need out of the project.”

When Guyott first sat down with the PCH team, the goals were fairly straightforward: to provide staff with an upgraded experience in their retail cafeteria and to improve on foodservice for the patients. “We wanted to create an environment that was…an opportunity for people to take an actual break.”

Design

There was no doubt that the space needed modernizing, so after goals were set, Guyott put the project into a space program to define how much space would be needed for the dining area and for the retail area. Once approved, the schematic design began. “At each step of the way, we brought in the foodservice team and their supervisors to look through the schematics designs, the design development designs, and the elevations,” says Guyott. “And they had a hand and input in each of those different levels, so by the time we were done with the full project, it really was a collaboration between foodservice architecture and foodservice design.”

One of the biggest challenges when starting the project was the disconnect between the existing kitchen being located in the basement and the public pathway being located on the floor above. “We wanted that flow to be reasonable for our employees in terms of storage and getting product from point A to point B,” says Boublis. So, they had to make a decision: Do they keep the kitchen and retail on separate floors or move both to the basement? “Nobody was really fond of putting it in the basement because you don’t have any access to natural light, it’s hard for people to find…”

As a result, a grand staircase and a large skylight were added to direct folks down to the serving area.

In terms of space flow, it’s important to make sure traffic is generally going in the same direction. Because of the variance in customer volumes, PCH put one of the cash registers in the coffee area so that in the mornings and on the weekends, there’s a place the cashier could actually do some productive work while cashing people out, says Guyott, adding that this helped with low volume times. 

Equipment & Food

Guyott and the team braved the busy NRA Show in Chicago for equipment choices. “Christine worked with the team to really look at a category like warewashing, pots and pans, cleaning carts, handling recyclables — all of these things that are critical to any foodservice environment,” says Boublis.

Being in Chicago, PCH wanted a great pizza program, so a central focus was on a stone hearth oven, which has had huge impact, according to Boublis. “It is not only a highlight of the space from an interior standpoint,” says Guyott. “But it is a highlight of the space for the customers — they really like the pizzas, it’s very popular, and they have many options for them every day.” Round the corner, and you’ll see a salad bar space, an area Boublis refers to as the “crown jewel.” 

Keeping employees in mind, grab-and-go stations — filled with sandwiches, salads, desserts, and more — were also added since breaks are only 30 minutes long. Menu design was not needed because, as Guyott explains, institutional foodservice projects, especially in the healthcare realm, don’t usually use a menu. “But with the population health era, there really need to be centers of wellness,” she says. “And so it’s very important that foodservice departments in hospitals really focus and showcase items that fit into a healthy dietary plan.”

Nutrition plays a huge part at PCH, says Oles, so the print menu features delineations of what patients can and can’t have in an easy-to-understand format. 

Patient Service

The last part added onto the project was the patient service, which was updated to become a room service program. “Nationally, the transformation into room service was already happening, so we knew we needed to move in that direction to remain competitive,” says Freese. Because this posed a challenge for staff in terms of migrating to a completely new process, PCH took a transitional approach. “We helped our employees move toward a tray-passing model, where we assembled the tray, got it up to the floor, and now they were the ones that were directly going in the patient room, handing off the tray,” says Boublis. “So I can say, as we’ve gotten to this point now, our employees are very comfortable with the process, but they also know that they own the process — that the experience and satisfaction of our patients and how they perceive meal service truly does rest with them, and they do a great job.”

Guyott attributes the success of this project to the collaboration of people. “I worked with a great team of folks to make sure this project was a success,” she says. “And the customers are extremely please.”