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No. Michigan‘s Biggest Restaurant

Al Parker - December 7th, 2006
All of those snarky old jokes about hospital food just don’t apply to the largest meal provider in Northern Michigan.
Both the quantity and quality of food is impressive at Munson Medical Center’s Cafeteria, which provides some 24,000 meals to patients each month and between 6,000 to 8,000 “transactions” each day to visitors and staff.
“We use the term ‘transactions’ for the Cafeteria because some of those might involve a cup of coffee, a cookie or a salad and are not full meals,” explains Ted Maury, catering and retail manager of the facility. “On a typical day we’ll sell 150 to 200 burgers, 100 pizzas, 100 to 200 sub sandwiches and more than 200 meals from our Innovation Station where we serve special salads and other offerings.”
The Innovation Station, which features fresh, made-to-order salads and other meals, was the site earlier this year of a popular program that enabled Munson’s Cafeteria to offer diners fresh produce from Traverse City area farms.
Registered dietitian Laura McCain worked with Maury and local farmers on the concept which proved to be very popular. Cafeteria staff used the tasty, fresh produce in preparing special meals and also sold the items in bulk quantities.
“The first item we tried was asparagus,” says Maury, with a smile. “People went nuts. We couldn’t get enough to sell. It was the biggest day we ever had.”
There was the same type of reaction to other fresh items, including blackberries, cherries, apples, pumpkin squash and strawberries. “We brought in, I believe, 50 flats of strawberries and every strawberry was gone by noon,” recalls Maury. “So we ordered another 50 flats the next day and they were gone in two hours. It was amazing.”
The Innovation Station is one of the most popular sites in the Cafeteria, which opened in 2003 as part of a major hospital renovation. Staffers Ty Karns and Fernando Buieles specialize in adding new twists to healthy dishes, especially salads.
“That’s where we make salads fresh and sizzling right in front of you,” says Maury. “Our most popular is probably ‘Sue’s Salad,’ which is named after one of our staff, and includes strawberries, nuts, soft cheese, romaine and grilled chicken. We also do some great fajita salads and stir fries, both pasta and oriental.”
Another big seller is the cafeteria’s Carolina barbecued pork, which is slow-cooked for nine or 10 hours before serving.

NEW MENU COMING
The cafeteria menu rotates monthly and will be undergoing some changes in upcoming months. “Our new menu will include nutritional information on 90 percent of the items we sell,” explains Maury. “We’ll offer new ways to present some classic dishes, some new ethnic dishes, including Asian, Latin, Middle Eastern, Moroccan and Indian. We’ll be doing more of that in the future.”
Starting early next year, the Cafeteria will begin a guest chef program in which professional chefs from area restaurants will be invited into the hospital kitchen one day per week. They will join Munson’s two main production chefs, Stu Leach and Paul Groesser to whip up some new taste treats.
When you’re serving such a large volume of people, things like traffic flow are important, says Maury. “We sell about 500 cups of coffee each morning,” he says. “So we’re working on a way to improve traffic flow around our coffee and water area.”
One change that really helped speed up traffic flow is the Munson EZ pay system for employees. Two years ago the Cafeteria adopted the voluntary program which allows employees to pay for their meals without using cash. They simply give their ID card to the cashier who runs it through a scanner, which keeps track of purchases. The money is then automatically deducted from the employee’s paycheck in the next pay period. The result has been less congestion at the checkouts.
“It’s working better than we expected,” says Maury. “We have more than 50 percent of our employees enrolled in EZ pay. That’s pretty phenomenal. We were told that one-third would be a success. We’re over half.”

ROOM SERVICE DINING
Another very popular program is the hospital’s room service dining now offered to patients. First launched about four years ago, the program allows patients and their families to select meals from an extensive restaurant-like menu. The food is prepared when the patient orders it, not ahead of time. Then the food is delivered right to the patient’s bedside.
“We provide 600 to 900 room service meals a day,” estimates Maury. “A patient can order a single meal or we can provide meals for a whole family. We’ve sent up to eight or nine meals to one room for a family to share. Our goal is to deliver a tasty, hot meal within 10 minutes of ordering.”
From a patient’s viewpoint, it offers greater variety and allows them to choose meals that appeal to them at the time they want to eat. Under the previous system, meals were ordered a full day ahead of time.
The room service menu choices are impressive. For breakfast there are seven fruit choices, 10 hot and cold cereal choices, omelets made to order, plus bakery items. Lunch and dinner feature soups, salads and sandwiches, four types of pasta, pizza with 10 different toppings, plus taste-tempting entrees such as baked Atlantic cod fillet, cherry glazed grilled chicken breast, and roast turkey breast with dressing. Several desserts and a full range of beverages are available.
If a patient has been placed on a special diet, some menu changes may be modified or substituted.
“This system gives our patients much more control over when and what they want to eat,” says Maury. “It’s been very successful.”

OTHER CUSTOMERS
In addition to preparing food for patients and at the cafeteria, Munson’s food services staff also provides meals for the hospital system’s Munson Community Health Center, the Hospice House, the Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center and two child care centers. They also cater a number of Munson events, such as the hospital’s annual holiday party which involves meals for some 4,000 employees and volunteers.
Maury and the food services staff of more than 100 are looking forward to the January opening of the hospital’s new emergency department. “There are four to six open houses being planned for the ER opening,” he says. “We’ll be preparing food for all of those.”
While some eateries change staff the way Paris Hilton changes boyfriends, Maury notes that there is relatively little turnover in Munson’s food services department.
“Our staff is really quality conscious,” he says. “We have people who have been here for many years, in an industry that is known for high turnover. We just don’t have that here.”
Maury says the food services staff is proud of the work they do – feeding employees, patients and their families.
“We’d like people to know that when they find themselves at the hospital, they can get a tasty, nutritious meal in a comfortable setting,” he says. “That’s what we do.”
 
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