Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC), New Hampshire’s only academic medical center, wanted to make sure staff at all hours and in all shifts had access to fresh, healthy food choices. Traditionally, that meant keeping costly cafes open at times when traffic was going to be minimal.
Fortunately, technologies have evolved to where that kind of all-hours meal service is becoming feasible. At DHMC, the solution lay in fridge units from vendor Byte Technology, which have been proliferating recently in hospitals as well as schools, offices and other environments where extended quality meal availability is desired at reasonable expense.
“Byte fridges allow us to sell our own high-quality food product without having to staff a retail outlet,” explains Katie Bradford, the director of Food and Nutrient Services at DHMC. “As a hospital, we are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, but our main cafeteria and café are closed overnight and on the weekends. Demand during these times is much lower, which makes staffing challenging. The hospital does have a 24-hour food vendor, but they had several unplanned closures during the pandemic. Our employees began sharing feedback that consistent, reliable access to well-priced fresh food makes an important difference to them.”
Bradford says she learned about the fridges last November during a New England Food Service Directors conference call.
“We were talking about using technology to make fresh food available when it’s not practical to open and staff a retail facility,” she recalls. “Someone on the call began talking about Byte Technology. We had recently begun selling ‘micro meals,’ or meals in a microwavable container, in our cafeteria, so I knew we had a product that people would buy.”
She ended up installing three fridges in February and has since added a fourth, all located in the Micro Mart room near the main cafeteria that is open overnight and on weekends, when the other food outlets are closed. The fridges each stock different options—one has micro meals, another salads and sandwiches, a third stocks fruit cups, yogurts and other convenience items like cheese and meat snack packs, hummus, guacamole, and tuna and chicken salads, and the fourth has beverages and additional micro meals, which are the best selling items.
“Our pot roast and turkey dinners are popular, as are chicken or shrimp scampi,” Bradford relates. “We also offer vegan meals like tofu, tempeh and grilled tofu.”
She says what she likes about the platform is the online dashboard, which she says is user friendly and simple to use. “I do not consider myself to be a technologically skilled in any way and I have no problem using the online dashboard to manage the Byte fridges,” she offers. On the financial side, Byte manages all the credit card transactions for a fee and sends DHMC its remaining profits each month. “This means we don’t have to take on all of the bookkeeping from the Byte fridge sales,” adding that “it has also been helpful to offer discount/coupon codes and Byte Technology has been great to work with. They are very responsive whenever we have questions.”
The customer base consists of employees who work overnight or on weekends to care for hospitalized patients, including physicians, residents, nurses, nursing assistants, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, patient transporters, laboratory staff, environmental services technicians and dietitians, and they seem to have embraced the option, as has the nutrition services team responsible for maintaining the units.
“Initially, my operating team was wary of the new technology,” Bradford says. “They were a little nervous about how well it would work and if it would be complicated to maintain. Now, those concerns have disappeared and they enjoy predicting which food options people will buy. Their top concern now is being able to keep up with demand. They always want to offer the right variety and quantity so people have choices. Keeping up with the demand is our biggest challenge, which is why we added a fourth fridge. We always want our customers to find something they want.”
Meanwhile, customer feedback has been “very positive,” she adds, sharing an example of the kind of grateful emails she’s received from employees. It reads…
“Hi there, I am a night nurse on 4 West and just wanted to give a big THANK YOU for the Micro Mart. It has been such a lifesaver for me on nights. The selection of meals is really good and very affordable for the quality meal you get! Also, it is much quicker and more convenient than going to the store, and there are actually healthy choices with grains and vegetables! My favorites so far have been the chicken garlic scampi with quinoa, turkey dinner, and chicken artichoke sauté. I also love the salads and the fruit cups. The feedback from my colleagues has also been very positive and they are glad to have this option available now. I read that there will be a fourth fridge added, really looking forward to it! Thank you for this very thoughtful program.”
The fridges currently average about 90 transactions per day, or about 650 per week and 2,800 a month. During the week, every fridge is restocked once a day while over weekends, they are restocked three times a day: morning, afternoon and at night.
Ultimately, the units have proved to be a major benefit for the DHMC onsite dining operations not just in customer satisfaction and added sales but in streamlining back-of-the-house operations, Bradford says.
“The Byte fridges have helped us standardize our food production schedule, which makes the work equitable over the course of the week,” she explains. “This has been great for our production team. Having sales overnight and on weekends has helped us reduce food waste and keep everything fresh. The flexibility has been wonderful. During a recent staff meeting, we closed down our main cafeteria and café and opened the Micro Mart. The Byte fridges have been a tremendous success for us. Our employees are our most important asset, so it’s a great feeling to know were able to offer food they want, when they want it.”