Take a left inside the main entrance of Montrose (CO) Memorial Hospital, and you'll run into the lines of chairs in the emergency-room waiting area. But follow your nose to the right, and you'll be welcomed by the succulent scents of chili-lime crab and shrimp cakes, hearth baked pizzas, and open-faced roast beef sandwiches with spicy horseradish sauce and sweet Dijon aioli.
Welcome to Montrose Memorial's Lobby Grille.
While it was created for the benefit of patients and expanded as a perk for employees and a comfort for patient visitors, it is now good enough to draw in diners who have no other reason to be at a hospital — except that they crave great food.
“We generally serve about 750 meals per day during the week and 300 on weekends,” says Michael Krull, a Culinary Institute of America-trained chef and director of food services at Montrose. As much as 40 percent of the Lobby Grille's business comes from non-employee customers.
“It hasn't always been that way. But with better menus, fresher, more healthful offerings, and lots of word-of-mouth marketing we've seen an increase in street traffic by approximately 40 percent.”
Dishes like Montrose's balsamic bison burger topped with gorgonzola bleu cheese crumbles and grilled vegetables, or the seared tuna and spinach salad tossed with egg, frizzled leeks, warm bacon and balsamic vinaigrette, or even the ricotta flatbread topped with pancetta bacon, sundried tomatoes, confit of duck, Mattics' baby greens and champagne vinaigrette are successfully making regulars out of locals.
“The menu changes at least quarterly,” notes Krull. “It's never a complete overhaul but it is constantly infused with seasonality and creativity to keep the customer enticed and the staff engaged.”
Lobby Grille is appropriately located near the front of the hospital near the lobby, making it simpler to attract off-premise traffic.
Although Krull doesn't solicit business from off- site, he did introduce a website that allows diners to pre-order meals so they are ready for pickup. He says that strategy helped boost sales by about 15 percent.
While customer satisfaction is certainly one of the primary rewards of attracting street traffic, staff satisfaction is equally as important.
“They often hear ‘how great the food is’ at Montrose Memorial Hospital from people they don't even know,” says Krull. “Those are the kinds of kudos that you don't often get when working in the world of hospital foodservice.”