FSD Vernon Rhea (shown above with Cafe Server Barbara Hite) oversees Fauquier Hospital's Bistro on the Hill cafe with its electronic payment system that automatically calculates discounts and loyalty program status. (below) Showplates merchandising the day's featured entrees at the Bistro.
Point of purchase complications have traditionally bedeviled onsite operations, especially those that try to boost business with loyalty programs or that encourage outside business in an internally subsidized cafè. How do you track customer loyalty in a way that doesn't complicate and prolong the checkout process, especially when lines are long? And how do you quickly distinguish insiders eligible for subsidized meals from outsiders and visitors who should pay full price?
At Fauquier Hospital in Warrenton, VA, a cashless electronic payment system has allowed the cafè operation to implement a sophisticated "Frequent Flyer" customer loyalty program that has boosted participation among hospital employees and enticed greater business from walkin traffic. The system also automatically identifies internal customers eligible for the hospital's 20-percent employee meal discount.
The system employs a touchless wand-based system that automatically includes applicable discounts and loyalty points when tabulating the amount owed at the point-of-sale. The user simply waves the wand over the reader terminal after the purchases are totaled and the net amount owed for the meal is deducted from a dedicated debit account. This account can be replenished by the user with checks, credit cards or automatic electronic bank transfers that occur once the account depletes to a minimum balance.
Currently, about 40 percent of Fauquier Hospital's 900 employees have such accounts, says Food & Nutrition Services Director Vernon Rhea. "That's pretty impressive considering we only launched the program this spring."
The frequent diner accounts (and a loyalty program) are made available to outsiders who either work nearby or have reason to visit Fauquier frequently. Currently, about a hundred such non-employees are participating in the program, providing Fauquier's Bistro on the Hill cafè a dependable outside clientele to augment internal business. Rhea says about half of the Bistro's business on a typical day is from non-internal customers.
He's fishing for more. Recently, the Food & Nutrition Department sent 500 solicitations to staffers working at an adjacent medical office building. The letters included wands, instructions on how to use them and an invitation to come have lunch at the Bistro.
The Bistro is a selling point all by itself. Featuring an array of freshly prepared meal options made with the use of equipment like a Mongolian Grill and a wood-burning stove, it is open round the clock, though it scales down into a short-order operation called the Night Owl Cafè after 8 p.m. It reopens for a full breakfast menu at 6 the next morning. Rhea says the overnight hours are important as an employee amenity even though customer counts only average about 60 a night.
Overall, the Bistro sees some 1,400 transactions on a typical weekday, with a $4.90 check average.
Meanwhile, Food & Nutrition offers a "low-tech, high-touch" approach to patient meals at the 86-bed facility. Room service is available from 7 am to 7:30 pm daily, with a half-hour turnaround time. The patients order off a "Bistro Menu Plus" that offers an expanded array of choices from the Bistro menu in order to accommodate different special diets. The menu is also designed to accommodate special ethnic food preferences because of the facility's highly diverse customer base. "We have authentic Hispanic, Chinese and Kosher selections for people who want that sort of option," Rhea says.
In addition to preparing patient meals, the Fauquier kitchen also supplies three meals and a snack each day to the hospital's affiliated Warrenton Overlook Rehabilitation Center 125-bed long-termcare center. Residents at this facility, a part of the Fauquier Health System, can take their meals in their rooms or at a buffet in the dining room.
Another source of outside business: two nearby private schools that have contracted with the kitchen for lunches five days a week during the school year. The selections rotate hot and cold meals and represent about 700 meals a week in business.
PHOTOS FROM FAUQUIER HOSPITAL