It's easy to see what's exciting about projects that involve building splashy, sleek, spanking-new, state-of-the-art, mega-buck foodservice facilities. But the truth is, many foodservice operators can wait their entire professional lives for the chance to build a big project from the ground up; most never get that opportunity.
On the other hand, if you want to hear some gee-whiz excitement that's not dependent on a big budget, go to the other end of the size spectrum and ask operators about their carts, kiosks and “hole-in-the-wall” retail concepts. For onsite operators these days, small is not just beautiful — it can be drop-dead gorgeous.
Small is beautiful
Just ask Robert Rizzuto, director of dining services at New York Institute of Technology (NYIT), Westbury, Long Island, who is using such concepts with great success. A coffee bar kiosk installed in NYIT's medical building alleviated the traffic problems at its main servery, and gave students and staff an attractive quick-service option between classes and captured new revenue dollars.
A second kiosk at NYIT's New York City campus is providing interim foodservice and its own revenue stream while a full-service casual food outlet, due to open next January, is being constructed. And Rizzuto is purchasing a third kiosk to install in an academic building where students balance books, coffee cups and breakfast items while walking from the parking lot to morning classes. That kiosk would also provide service during morning class breaks.
Or, ask Jim Wulforst, dining services director at Duke University, Durham, NC, about some of the winning town-gown alliances he's forged by installing four popular local food vendors in free-standing kiosks on a campus plaza walkway over which 7,000 people travel each day.
“For the vendors, it is a nice opportunity to present their brands to the Duke community and the concepts bring a level of fun, activity and almost carnival excitement to the plaza,” says Wulforst. The concepts include Pauly (hot) Dogs, Victoria's Sweets, Cosmic Cantina burritos and Green Tango salads.
You can get equally enthusiastic stories from Dave Parsonage, Aramark district manager for the west region, and from Keith Soster, director of food services for the University Unions, University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Parsonage, who's been in the industry 24 years and seen a few trends, is excited about the new C3 — read that as convenience to the third power — that was installed in January at both ends of a sprawling aerospace manufacturing plant near Dallas. He describes the integrated system of attached, coordinated individual foodservice modules unequivocally as the best thing he's ever seen — “the first real satelliting solution in terms of offering the right size, quality and variety of services, and security in a very retail approach.”
Parsonage says the new system avoids the piecemeal look of the past where “Typically, you would order a mobile hot table, a beverage station, maybe another unit and line them up. The problem with that approach is that they would never really come together.”
In contrast, the seven C3 stations, with integrated lighting and signage, were installed in a single day in two former vending areas at both ends of the complex to deliver foodservice to employees who work too far from the main cafeteria.
For his part, University of Michigan's Soster raves about the Mujo's coffee servery installed in a three-story glass atrium of the Duderstadt Media Library. It's a stationary, 600 sq. ft. kiosk that last year did $454,000 in sales. The library uses its share of the profits to reinvest in the area, recently adding bar-stool seating along the exterior wall.
With no real food production equipment, the servery is completely supplied by local vendors. “Our students have expressed a real desire for locally grown, locally produced foods,” says Soster, and Mujo's ties into that. It contracts with a local coffee vendor, which provides a custom Mujo's blend; the croissant sandwiches carry the logo of another local vendor; and a third vendor delivers supplies of four to five sushi lunch options daily.
The kiosk has been so successful in the library location that Bert Askwith, an alumni benefactor, recently specified that his donation be used to establish a similar foodservice outlet at the undergraduate library. (It will, of course, be named Bert's.)
Something about “small” resonates with the climate of the times (especially if it is popular and profitable and meshes with the emphasis on “doing more with less.” )Using small serveries, new programs can be implemented at modest cost with limited risk and start-up time, minimal additional labor, little space and low overhead. And if they don't work out, they can be changed or moved just as easily and quickly as they were implemented.
Delivering on the kiosk promise
The range of what small serveries can deliver, based on interviews with foodservice operators, appears almost limitless. In their many permutations, they can help capture new customers, expand service to new locations, increase the types and quality of services, bring more cash to the bottom line, and raise foodservice's profile with customers and administrators.
New York Presbyterian Hospital (NYP) has been successful with five new grab-and-go concepts, each smaller than 1,000 sq. ft. Like most hospitals, NYP's main cafeterias are all in areas where visitors would have to search them out, according to Sue Sussman, network retail business manager. The serveries in lobby areas create impulse sales from visitors en route to see patients or patients waiting for appointments.
“While some of the kiosks reduce lines in the cafeterias, others are additional business that we would not have otherwise,” says Sussman. “A second advantage is the savings achieved by closing down the larger cafeterias during slower evening hours while still having food options for night employees.”
In Mesa (AZ) Public Schools, portable carts stocked with entrees, snacks, fruit and beverages are wheeled onto each of the six sprawling high school campuses daily. They are in position when the approximately 2,500 students on each campus break at the very same minute for a single 40- to 50-minute lunch period.
“They disperse the crowds from the main cafeteria and provide really essential additional points of service,” says Loretta Zullo, director of the district's food and nutrition department. In recent years, improvements in technology have made it possible to install point-of-service software so reimbursable meals can be sold from the carts and new product offerings from manufacturers, such as bagged sliced apples, have expanded the carts' menus.
In Portage, IN, Jan Black, school nutrition specialist, was struggling to provide service at a middle school that was bursting at the seams. Her solution: a portable cart placed in an atrium area adjacent to the cafeteria that in effect “extended the cafeteria by creating another serving line. We also moved in some benches to create something of a picnic area for additional seating.”
At the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), the newest of 10 kiosks operating throughout the system opened in the lobby of Shadyside Hospital in July 2006.
Kiosk-type operations, because of their low capital investment, minimal staffing, bare-bones equipment, abbreviated menu, and lock-down design, also can bring in respectable dollars from areas and traffic that wouldn't justify a full-service operation with extended hours of operation.
The Shadyside Kiosk was designed to take some of the traffic out of the main cafeteria, but also “to introduce a more upscale menu, expand the variety and give the program some totally different foods not available before,” says Gayle Musulin, UPMC's director of nutrition and food service. “There was an audience looking for those items, especially among the professional staff and visitors,” she says.
The catering kitchen produces the menu, choosing from a variety of fresh ingredients to create an extensive selection of such signature salads as Thai beef and chicken walnut. Also offered are specialty espresso, brewed and blended coffees, upscale bottled beverages and soups, sandwiches and pastries.
In Sycamore Community School District, Cincinnati, OH, a simple, single wooden cart that displays fresh fruit adjacent to the service line has increased whole fruit consumption by the school's students by an estimated 25 percent. Barbara Duncan, child nutrition director, said the decision to better merchandise fruit was made in response to the “total lack of interest” when fruit was placed on the serving line in stainless steel pans. The free-standing cart has three shelves and attractive black baskets that display as many as four varieties of apples, oranges, bananas, kiwi, watermelon, pears and tangerines.
At the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, MN, Beaker's Coffee Cart was installed in 1999 in a newly constructed science and math building. Gayle Lamb, cash operations manager, says the servery, located in the connecting skyway between two buildings, has evolved into the social and information hub of the area. All classrooms and labs are behind closed doors and Beaker's is the only common open space. In its first five years, Beakers averaged $500 to $800 in daily sales. Now, with an expanded, creative menu — there are almost 30 items on the beverage menu alone — sales are twice that.
The sprawling campuses of many large medical facilities offer a particularly good opportunity for kiosk satellites, observes Bruce Thomas, associate vice president of guest services at Geisinger Health System, in Danville, PA, the largest rural healthcare system in the nation.
“Over the past 10 years, we've used kiosks extensively to follow our customers so we don't lose them when they move to new buildings. Some buildings are as much as seven miles away and another series of office buildings is 2-1/2 miles up the road.” Thomas has even gone so far as to purchase golf carts from a local golf club to run supplies across the campus to satellite serveries.
Thomas said the entry price to establish small serveries is low compared to the revenues that would be lost. A small green cart maxed out in sales in the first week. A kiosk in a family practice clinic offers little more than coffee and pastries and pulls in $65,000 to $75,000 in annual revenues.
Many kiosks installed in recent years were designed to capture customers who don't want to deal with the lines in larger cafeterias and aren't interested in an extensive menu. Some build on the ability of established national brands such as Starbucks, to generate revenue.
At Via Christi Regional Medical Center, in Wichita, KS, a Starbuck's coffee kiosk does both, according to Wanda Reinking, director of nutrition service. Located adjacent to a retail coffee shop that does $2.5 million in annual sales, the stationary 100-sq. ft. servery opened in July 2005. Its $8,000 monthly sales the first year climbed to $10,000 in 2006 and $12,000 in 2007.
Extended service hours
At the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, a Sodexo's Café a la Carte concept has operated in the university's most densely populated classroom building since the fall of 2002. It consists of two open-air coolers for beverages and the company's Smart Market items, plus a snack station and cashier stand. Staffed by one person and open six hours daily Monday through Friday, it does approximately $7,500 business monthly on 4,000 transactions, according to Rick Warpinski, director of the University Union.
Tapping the central kitchen
The on-site location of a central kitchen means a wide variety of freshly prepared items can be produced in well-equipped existing space with well-trained production staff and then satellited to stock the smaller serveries. That helps assure high quality and freshness and significantly reduces kiosk staffing requirements. The other advantage of using central kitchen production is that kiosk staff is free to concentrate on providing the “personality” and not the “product.”
Examples: Sodexo's University of Wisconsin-Green Bay kiosk is totally stocked with centrally prepared items. And Salisbury University's satellite serveries are able to offer a truly extensive menu — 13 specialty sandwiches on Kaiser rolls, bagels, pitas, focaccia and wraps plus seven salads — only because all are prepared centrally by the board operation's kitchen.
The same is true at the aerospace manufacturing facility where the new C3 serveries are stocked each morning. An added advantage is the fact that runners from the main kitchen also can replenish supplies if necessary. Because there is no food production onsite at the servery, each unit is staffed by one person who stocks the units, opens doors, runs the cash register and calls for replenishments as needed.
“By empirical data alone, the operation is successful. Sales have more than doubled less than a month after opening. We're pretty close to capacity at lunch, having moved from 125 transactions daily to just south of 200 in our first month of operation. We're now thinking about opening up for breakfast,” says Parsonage. “On the non-empirical side, our client is ecstatic — we are delivering quality service to the far ends of the plant with very low overhead and few additional costs.”
Kiosk Basics: Location and Staffing
Look for traffic patterns and personality.
Location, location, location,” says Rick Warpinski, director of the University Union at University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, referring to what many say is the most important factor in planning a successful kiosk site.
“It has to be on a convenient, well-traveled path so customers don't have to go out of their way to find it. Ours is along a major walkway and needs little public relations to make it successful.“
Still, Warpinski says dining services works hard to keep the campus community aware of its hours of operation, sends out weekly e-mails promoting specials and offers “frequent buyer” cards to encourage repeat business.
“You have to walk by our cart to get to the elevator,” says Dexter Hancock, director of nutritional services at DCH Health System, in Tuscaloosa, AL, in talking about his profitable kiosk in the main lobby of an outpatient medical tower. “There's no way to get into the building without passing it.” In addition, the main cafeteria is a long walk away and it is easy to get lost in the walkways between buildings.
How You Staff It
At Grinnell (IA) Regional Medical Center, an 8-ft. × 18-ft. Corner Café is less than half the size of the nearby cafeteria but does almost as much business. The key to its success isn't the extensive menu of half and full made-to-order sandwiches — 17 specialty and six wrap — and salads, according to Kris Reed, director of nutrition services. The real key, he says, is Mary Anderson and Carla DeGeorge, who staff the café.
Look for Traffic Patterns & Personality
“We hired them for their personality,” says Reed. “The secret to [any small servery's] success is to staff it with hard-working, free-spirited, driven-for-success people who have a passion for making others smile. Once you find them, your job is to give them the freedom to work their magic by having the education, supplies, support and direction they need. They bring a sense of fun to the place. They celebrate holidays — and non-holidays — wear goofy hats, fire up the grill for a surprise in February. Even if employees have only five minutes away from their desks, they are as refreshed after a visit to the Corner Café as if they had a full meal break. For this to happen, the kiosk employees must ‘own’ their jobs.”
A great example: Pauly Dogs owner Paul Konstanzer on the Duke campus, who has become a campus celebrity. Wulforst recruited the young entrepreneur from his previous post selling hot dogs from a New York-styled stainless steel cart in front of Duke University Hospital. He installed Konstanzer in one of the four 8 ft. × 2 ft. foot kiosks on the walkway as the first of four local vendors with kiosks there. In Pauly's first four-hour shift on campus, he ran out of hot dogs three times and the Alpine Bagel manager working in the shop behind him came out to help him serve the backed-up line of customers.
“At 6 in the morning, I get up and check the computer for sales at all 33 of our outlets. I saw Pauly had done $636 in business in his first four hours,” recalls Wulforst. “When I stopped to see him, I asked how his first day had gone and he looked side to side, as if not wanting anyone to hear, and whispered, ‘I did $636 in business yesterday.’”
“It can be freezing and raining in the middle of January and he's still selling hot dogs,” says Wulfhorst. “The students love him and he is constantly expanding and reinventing his menu,” noting that one popular dog is called “The Thing” and crushed potato chips are the secret dog-topping ingredient.
The smaller the servery, the more important it is to staff it with a friendly, familiar face, advise operators. “Selecting the right people to work the kiosk makes all the difference in the world,” says Valerie Langbein, R.D., director of nutrition services, Eastern Maine Medical Center, Bangor. “You want someone who is very customer oriented, someone who takes initiative and who feels ownership for the success of the operation.” She says Janice Dionne, who staffs Eastern's Riverview Café, is just such a person.
Via Christi's Reinking says that when you introduce national brands in your servery, staff experienced with that brand can be a real plus. “It's even more important when you introduce a concept like Starbuck's with its extensive menu and wide variety of ingredients.” In opening her Starbuck's operation, Reinking got off to a very positive start by hiring staff trained by Starbuck's and experienced in their outlets.
Kiosk Basics: The Menu
Limit the menu, build in quality and price carefully.
At Salisbury (MD) University, three kiosks located in different academic buildings offer a combination of low-end and high-end sandwiches — from peanut butter and jelly for $1.59 to Silicon Valley wraps for $4.25. Michelle Fitz, marketing coordinator, says two homemade soups prepared for her board operation are sold in the kiosk with no increase in labor. “The soups change daily, are priced competitively and are customer favorites.”
In more support for quality, Fitz says coffee sales increased by 26 percent when Seattle's Brand Coffee was introduced. High-end beverage options also sell well, including Vitamin Water, Red Bull and Arizona Tea.
At Grinnell Regional Medical Center, Nutrition Services Director Kris Reed says customers are willing to pay almost twice as much at the Corner Cafe for the same chili that is served in the cafeteria because of the different ambience the cafe provides.
“Keep the menu fresh and interesting and keep changing it, especially the beverages, because beverage preferences change constantly,” advises Gayle Musulin, director of nutrition & food service at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
She also advises, “Don't be afraid of higher-ticket items, like $4 and $5 specialty lattes and iced coffees. We sell upscale Jones Soda, which has funky flavors, such as watermelon and root beer float. Another advantage of a kiosk is it is easy to change the menu. You can do something on the spur of the moment in a smaller servery.”
Dave Parsonage, Western Region district manager for Aramark, suggests a wide range of price points. His operation offers everything from mini-ciabbatti sandwiches to overstuffed six-inch subs to fruit cups and upscale salads.
Musulin suggests that “you shouldn't be afraid to charge upscale prices for upscale items, pricing them comparable to outside operations. We found that professional staff and visitors were looking for those items.”
But Robert Rizzuto, director of dining services at New York Institute of Technology in Westbury, Long Island, likes to price his items a bit lower “so we're not just offering the convenience but also a better price. The price becomes an incentive to break the morning habit of buying it out on the street.”
At Eastern Maine Medical Center's Riverview Café, the emphasis is on healthy items. All pastries are made from scratch and are high in fiber and low in fat. A variety of yogurts, fresh and dried fruit, and specialty juices, including wild blueberry juice, are also offered.
Duke University Dining Services Director Jim Wulfhorst says the menu for a small servery should be designed with two ideas in mind: “you can't be everything to everybody” and “distance is your enemy.” He recommends offering a very limited menu of the most popular items — four burritos, five salads. “You want to be able to prepare everything by turning right or left but not moving more than one foot.”
Nutrition Education on Wheels
The entire 24 Carrots nutrition education outreach program of Malcom Randall Veterans Administration Medical Center, in Gainesville, FL, is contained within a single mobile kiosk that was introduced one year ago. The program was created to reach out to veterans and family members waiting for medical services and consultations. It is also designed to influence their food choices and their household menus.
“There is a long tradition of consuming coffee and donuts while waiting for medical appointments,” says Shannon Bloodworth, R.D., wellness dietitian at the medical center. Marion Korzec, chief of the center's nutrition and food service department, wanted to offset the “donut diet” approach with information and demonstrations of more healthful food and cooking techniques.
The answer was 24 Carrots. Measuring 60 inches long by 32 inches wide by 36 inches high, it is equipped with a two-burner induction cooktop, refrigerated ingredient bin, an overhead demonstration mirror and convection/microwave oven. It is moved to different outpatient clinics throughout the day and week and also used at health fairs and various educational sessions. A single recipe is selected and preparation and production completed at the kiosk within 15 minutes, with free samples of the prepared food distributed to the approximately 40 to 45 people in attendance. Bloodworth is available for questions and discussion for another 45 minutes.
The kiosk was instantly popular and is recognized throughout the medical center, according to Bloodworth, who is now known as “The Carrot Lady.” The focus of the demonstrations is on easy, quick, healthy and inexpensive recipes targeting a specific nutrient, such as carbohydrates, or a specific disease, such as diabetes.
One early presentation was a response to the “I don't have time for breakfast” argument and featured a demonstration of vanilla cherry oatmeal. A session on lowering saturated fat featured apricot-glazed pork medallions. Occasionally, the kiosk hands out free samples of healthier items being introduced in the medical center's cafeteria. One veteran who takes frequent trips in an RV was delighted to see Bloodworth prepare an entire meal in one pot.