For most of us, Hallmark is known for fostering personal relationships through its greeting cards. But for employees stationed at the brand’s Kansas City, Mo., headquarters, Hallmark also cultivates ties through its food. That’s been harder to do during COVID-19, when most of employees have been working from home. But the brand’s curbside meal pickup program has helped.
“Hallmark is caring and connected, so it’s been a change and a challenge to have less of that personal connection,” says Hallmark Corporate Services Manager Laura Battle. “Curbside carryout gives us an opportunity to connect with customers who pick up their orders.”
Prior to the pandemic, employees could pop into Hallmark’s Crown Room and pick a freshly prepared meal from one of 10 hot serving lines or seven self-service options. Now things are different, of course. “We’ve simplified our focus on quality microwaveable foods. Across the board, we established packaged food offerings to replace cafeteria self-service,” says Battle.
Photo: Served in person or at home, Korean BBQ wings with steamed rice and sesame greens beans is a food truck-inspired favorite.
Employees who are still on campus can access the packaged microwaveable meals from 24-hour mini marts. To reduce direct contact, Hallmark’s POS systems were converted to self-serve kiosks. The large-scale seating areas where diners used to gather are currently closed. “We’ve tailored it to a few socially distanced break rooms. But most customers take their meals back to their workspaces,” Battle says.
Reaching those working from home has been a bigger challenge. “It’s been so important to us to stay relevant in the minds of all of our customers,” Battle says. Last summer, she and her team began offering weekly curbside pickup specials in an effort to stay in touch with remote customers—and do something to help make pandemic life a little more manageable. “We wanted to find a way to help our customers with their work-life balance at home,” says Battle. “Whether that means providing healthy, nutritious meals or giving people time back with their families by doing less cooking.” The packaged, reheatable meals are designed to feed four to six people.
The curbside menu includes many of the classic Crown Room offerings that employees enjoyed pre-pandemic, plus new items aimed at keeping customers excited and engaged. “We’re trying to grab our inspiration from food truck concepts and what’s trending in terms of international foods and figure out a way with a garnish and a sauce that would be easy to microwave,” Battle says.
Popular offerings include things like Korean BBQ wings with steamed rice and sesame green beans, housemade meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy, roasted broccoli Alfredo pizza, spicy shrimp quesadillas, mini barbacoa tacos with housemade pico, Buffalo chicken macaroni and cheese and gourmet burgers. Customers can also pick up quarts of soup, pints of hummus, housemade salad dressing and energy bites by the dozen.
There have been holiday promotions too. For Thanksgiving, Battle and her team prepared more than 200 turkey dinners and hundreds of pies for customers to pick up before the holiday. “We want to be part of today’s celebration at work or at home with family, whether they’re working at the office or working remotely,” she says.
With opportunities to catch customers’ attention in-person off the table, Battle has to make more of an effort to stay in touch through other channels. “We have to market what we have to offer and reiterate that we’re still here to provide excellent service,” she says. “Email reminders of our upcoming menu is one way of staying top of mind while tempting our customers with their favorite Crown Room menu items.”
Email isn’t the only way Battle is using technology to her advantage. “We’re talking about offering app-based ordering systems. It would be used as a supplement in the future. It’s an investment we’d want for the long term,” she says. What’s more, she anticipates meal ordering and pickup to continue to have a role at Hallmark long after the pandemic ends.
And with that end possibly, hopefully, in sight, Hallmark is beginning to contemplate its return-to-headquarter plans. The details have yet to be determined, and for now, Battle can’t predict how any of those decisions will ultimately impact her foodservice operations. But she does know that being able to scale operations to meet her customers’ needs will be important.
“We have to deliver the same exceptional customer service that they’ve coming to except, whether they’re dining in the Crown Room or working from home,” Battle says. “We’re looking forward to the day we can come in contact with our customers face-to-face.”