By Kevin Mull, Vice President of Operations, and Emily McCabe, Senior Director of Dining, Mission Health
Asheville, N.C. is a well-known foodie town. Nestled in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, the city of 92,000 people has more than 700 restaurants and attracts tourists year-round seeking to sample its wide-ranging fare.
Working with Mission Hospital, the city’s largest healthcare facility, we wanted to create a unique experience in our café that fits with the city’s food scene. The hospital also opened a new 12-story tower in October 2019, adding 220 patient rooms. It wanted a high-quality restaurant that not only serves the hospital’s medical staff and guests, but also attracts local residents. So, we put together a new food concept like no other.
In late September, we opened the Mission Memorial Café, a “food hall” that is a new concept in hospital dining. Instead of food stations, guests can choose meals from several individual restaurants. They can make their own pizza, choose from international-inspired dishes, visit the deli station for sandwiches, wraps and sides and even custom orders as the food is being prepared.
How Tech Improves Food
But our food hall has plenty of differences before we even get to the food. It starts with ordering a meal.
Instead of standing in line at each restaurant, every diner places their order and pays using a debit or credit card at one of several kiosks.
The kiosks have a dual purpose: they enable each guest to customize their order while also cutting down on wait times. We view food quality as our top priority, so placing each order through the kiosk ensures each meal will be cooked to order, making it fresher and delivering the best taste. Wait times for each diner is reduced since the kiosk captures all information, which is relayed to the kitchen.
Mission employs hundreds of nurses on its Asheville campus, and these professionals make up about 85 percent of our clientele on an average day. The quicker ordering process enables staff to order and eat a complete, well-balanced meal during the high-volume lunch period. And, of course, we have plenty of “grab and go” items for them, such as salads and deli sandwiches.
Providing Friendly Customer Service
A kiosk is a relatively new way of ordering food and many people may need help navigating the menu. And we don’t want customer service to suffer. To help each person, we’re providing a new concierge service where Morrison associates are stationed near kiosks to greet visitors and help answer any questions to make certain our customers get the food they want.
While kiosks may initially make the process feel too automated, the guests’ mood changes once they enter the food hall. Those with time to view each day’s selections are free to roam the food hall before placing their order. They can also watch our culinary team in action, cooking omelets, hand-crafted burgers and other meals as they decide on which meal to order or wait for their food.
Now, the Food
When it comes to food choice and quality, we have a facility built to compete with the best restaurants in Asheville.
Because Asheville’s had a reputation for quality food, we buy products from local farms and vendors that are known to local residents, including selected conventional and organic vegetables from Mountain Food Products and water tapped from the nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
And while we continue to purchase many products through our primary distributor, we can order several local items needed for vegan and vegetarian meals to appeal to the local clientele.
For the city’s health-conscious diners, we have expanded the number of vegetarian meals. No longer just a tofu and vegetable crowd, there are several vegan meals featuring plant-based burgers and meatloaf supplied by Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, makers of the Impossible Burger. There are vegan options for breakfast, too, including fresh grains and oatmeal.
For variety, one of our restaurants offers a wide range of foods from around the globe. As part of our “Street Eats” concept, we’ve offered up several different restaurants on a weekly basis. These concepts include Ramen Republic, Greek Street and Taco Shoppe, giving guests a wide variety of choices.
One of our restaurants also offers a variety of global dishes. One week we featured Middle Eastern fare, such as falafel, and the next week provide foods from India and other Asian countries.
At the same time, we continue to offer more traditional American food, such as roasted meats, hand-crafted burgers and barbecue. There’s also a permanent salad station called Grains and Greens and the Market Street Deli, which provides soups and wraps.
More Improvements on the Way
We know that providing high-quality food with convenient service will make our food hall a success. Teaming up with Common Cents Solutions, a software vendor, we’re implementing mobile app ordering that we expect to be ready by the end of February.
Again, since nurses and other hospital associates value their personal, “recharge” times throughout the day, we want to make it as easy as possible for them to enjoy a healthy meal. By ordering with the app, they will be able to select a nutritious option before leaving their jobs, giving them more time to sit down, enjoy their food and recharge. Giving them this added convenience is just one more way we can help them better serve their patients.
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