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Texas Hospital adds 24/7 automated option for staff, guests

Methodist Hospital Atascosa’s new micro market fills the gap during main cafeteria off hours.

A trickle of afternoon and early evening foot traffic at Methodist Hospital Atascosa’s cafeteria posed one dilemma. So did a lack of dining options for staff working evening and overnight shifts at the Jourdanton, Texas, hospital.

For FM Top 50 firm HHS, which manages Methodist Hospital’s foodservice, adding a round-the-clock dining option was a way to tackle both pain points.

Keeping the cafeteria open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. didn’t make logistical sense, especially from a labor standpoint. “There was not enough volume to justify the FTEs,” says Doug Schreiber, executive vice president of culinary for HHS.

The solution was to carve out a separate, adjacent space with automated systems for providing food and beverages. A high-tech kiosk designed by Byte Technology is filled with freshly prepared items that are restocked daily. It sits next to a beverage vending machine.

image_67180545.JPGPhoto: Bowls, pudding parfaits and other items are freshly prepared on site.

The kiosk sells items such as sandwiches, salads, bowls, Hot Pockets, breakfast burritos, fruit cups, protein boxes, pudding parfaits and snacks, all prepared on site in the cafeteria kitchen. Keto and vegetarian choices are available along with other healthy choices. Options are displayed through a glass front, with refrigerator-like shelves inside. Typically 60 to 75 items are available.

Users choose an item and swipe a credit card to purchase it. A tablet menu provides more information, allows users to filter items by meal type or allergen and determine which products are available in real time. The kiosk tracks inventory.

Coffee and water in the micro market are complimentary.

The micro market took over a spot formerly used for private dining. It’s not strictly grab-and-go: While there is no dedicated seating, guests can access tables in the cafeteria to enjoy their selections.

The new space has made closing the cafeteria mid-afternoon more feasible, Schreiber says. Preparing fresh foods, restocking and maintaining the micro market require about 16 hours of labor a week, he adds.

Since debuting August 13, weekly sales at the micro market have averaged about $700 without any promotion. Schreiber expects that number to rise as more visitors and team members discover the market. In addition, he says, Methodist Hospital Atascosa is a small community hospital with a busy emergency department, so having a micro market right around the corner is likely to generate sales from family members.

Eventually periodic surveys will be conducted to determine what should be stocked. “In the winter, we’ll probably add soups,” Schreiber says. A microwave oven is on hand to reheat burritos, Hot Pockets and other hot foods.

A number of HHS’s other hospital clients already have a Byte kiosk on site. In larger facilities, “We are looking to add more of them to make it convenient on the medical-surgical floors,” Schreiber says. Often medical staff in those areas can’t take a break to leave the area for a meal or snack. “It’s easy—you can put them just about anywhere; they only need an outlet and can work off wi-fi or a cell signal.”

HHS manages nonpatient services at hospitals, from housekeeping to patient transport, laundry, maintenance and foodservice. Most recently, Schreiber says the division responsible for foodservice “has grown like crazy.” HHS also handles contracts in other industries.

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