During the coronavirus pandemic, the Metz foodservice team at Baltimore’s Mercy Medical Center has been busy: Packaging up meals for mobile food carts to serve the hospital’s units, creating special entrees in microwavable containers, adjusting to social distancing and takeout at the café and more. Just one retail outlet is still open, where the team prepares salads in place of a salad bar, serves beverages in a formerly self-serve station and supervises touchless transactions at registers.
Earlier this month, Kristan Allman, general manager with Metz Culinary Management at Mercy, and those in upper management wanted to do something special to recognize the employees’ quick pivot and hard work.
“The flexibility and commitment of the team has been remarkable,” Allman says. “Everyone has been willing to train on new positions, pick up hours, join together and get the tough work done.”
A socially distanced Cinco de Mayo celebration served by management leaders fit the bill for something special and safe as well.
“Cinco de Mayo was right around the corner, so what better way to celebrate than with walking tacos, mock margaritas and a great playlist?” Allman says, adding that Assistant Director Dave Testerman served as “our own in-house DJ.”
While get togethers look very different now, the spirit of togetherness can remain, with some adjustments to regular mix-and-mingle party flow. Items like walking tacos are perfect for keeping your distance while eating, it turns out—after all, it’s right in the name.
“The department has an office suite with a conference room,” Allman explains. “The food was set up in the conference room with management preparing the custom walking tacos. The number of team members in the room was limited, hand hygiene on entrance and exit and masks were required.”
Team members walked their tacos and other treats into adjacent offices, relaxed and enjoyed. Sure, not your typical fiesta, but a fun event, nonetheless.
Allman’s main takeaway? “This pandemic should not discourage leaders from celebrating,” she says. “Get creative and keep it safe.”
Culinary creativity is paving the way for everyday food options as well.
Allman says the foodservice team has been excelling at grab and go in general for some time, with the Up For Grabs program, but now, “the focus has shifted into complete meals with necessary packaging that could travel and reheat well.”
Executive Chef Will Stribling has been creating an entrée of the day, so far the most successful menu item, that’s served in a microwaveable container. With the grab-and-go focus, meals in bowls have also been popular: steak burrito bowls with cilantro-lime sauce and sesame grilled salmon with fried rice, for example.
Looking ahead to the future, Allman says it’s “imperative to remain resilient and do what is necessary given the circumstances presented. Future plans may include how to navigate food delivery on an isolation floor for patients. And how will we deliver the same hospitality, hot delicious food while respecting social distancing protocols and our ‘new normal?’”
The answers remain to be seen, but one silver lining Allman sees is “the unity built through this pandemic has solidified the notion of an essential employee.”
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