University of Utah Health Care relies on local restaurant chefs to staff its Chef's Corner station.
When University of Utah Health Care's University Hospital opened its new West Pavilion complex in July 2009, it not only presented the foodservice department with a new patient kitchen facility, but also a brand new retail cafeteria.
Located near the main hospital entrance, it brought over concepts like the pizza and grill stations, as well as an expanded deli double the size of the old one. Also new: the bakery, which now sits in the servery and entices customers with its displays of fresh baked goodies.
But the most striking and novel feature of the new facility is what had originally been slated to be an entrée station called Chef's Corner. It originated from a need to meet budget requirements for the cafeteria.
“I started thinking about how hard and labor intensive ethnic foods can be,” says Laura Robson, director of nutrition care services.
So Robson decided to go a different route. She approached local ethnic restaurants about serving their specialties during lunch hour at the Chef's Corner station. The result: the “Guest Restaurant” program in which five different ethnic restaurants operate the station each week on successive days.
The current lineup features Indian, Greek, Italian, Mexican and Asian restaurants, and Robson's plan is to rotate different ones in every six to eight months. They operate from 11 am to 2 pm, “and they often make more in those three hours than they make in a week at their regular places, especially in this economy,” Robson says.
The station equipment includes a cold top, induction hot plates, a combi oven/steamer, hot wells, a warming cabinet and refrigeration, so, other than grilling (no hoods), it can accommodate different prep methods.
The guest restaurants generate some $30,000 a month in gross revenue. They keep 80 percent but pay their own labor and food costs. UH provides the plates, cutlery and disposables. The financial contribution of the guest restaurants to the cafeteria's bottom line equals 15 percent of net revenue.
“The program has allowed us to partner with the community and has been an awesome experience,” Robson says. “It adds variety and service to our cafeteria while they get additional visibility as well as extra sales.”
Another advantage: the guest restaurants provide context for the cafeteria's pricing. “They charge about what they charge in their restaurants — say $6.99 or $7.99 for a plate — and that has allowed us to be a little more creative in our pricing at the other stations,” Robson says. Partly as a consequence of that, the check average jumped from $4.72 to $5.51 in the transition.
The new cafeteria draws customers from staff and visitors and also the some 10-12,000 students and staff in the nearby medical school. Revenues were up 40% — or $912,000 — from the previous cafeteria's take in the first months, while customer counts swelled by more than 25%, to some 54,000 a month (Robson says the current fiscal year is currently on pace for an 11% increase on top of that). One dramatic increase: weekend business is up 74 percent.
There is also a Starbucks branded café in the Eccles Critical Care Pavilion that offers salads, sandwiches and pastries and is open 24 hours a day to accommodate late night customers, though it does most of its business during the day. In the seven years it has operated, it has increased the operating margin it kicks back to UH from $63,000 to $305,000 after paying the chain its royalties.