With an emphasis on expanding menus, speed of service and the use of locally sourced ingredients to create dishes that rival the strongest of restaurants, healthcare foodservice continues to enjoy a renaissance.
Healthcare foodservice today mirrors its restaurant peers as operators from both segments prepare more varied menus, with many dishes made to order in increasingly open kitchens.
"Healthcare trends mirror restaurant trends," says Lisette Coston, director of nutrition and foodservice at the 912-bed Saint Francis Health System in Tulsa, Okla. "In terms of hospital staff and visitors, the offerings need to keep people on campus."
More than 54,000 healthcare facilities, including hospitals, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, assisted or senior living centers and other healthcare establishments, operate in the U.S., according to Chicago-based CHD Expert, which collects, manages and analyzes data for the global foodservice market. On an average day, these hospitals care for more than 643,000 patients.
Publicly run facilities account for approximately 86 percent of healthcare facilities, while about 14 percent are private institutions, CHD Expert reports. More than 40 percent of the healthcare facilities serve between 51 to 100 meals on a daily basis.
The healthcare segment's retail sales equivalent for foodservice totaled $24.4 billion in 2013, according to Chicago-based Technomic, a market research firm. Foodservice management firms manage approximately 25 percent of food programs in U.S. hospitals.
An increasing number of U.S. hospitals are investing more in their foodservice operations in order to create friendly, hotel-like experiences, complete with room service, cafeterias, gardens and local produce, reports CHD Expert. "Hospitals are getting away from traditional call centers and using a blend of bedside menu entry, including room service," Coston says. More efficient equipment with updated technology plays a key role in today's healthcare kitchens. "Faster production, speed and ease of cleaning and less labor are key factors," Coston says.
Healthcare facility menus for patients and visitors tend to mimic restaurant food offerings as well. "We're seeing more flatbread pizzas, rice bowls, burritos and fish options, along with gluten-free and vegetarian offerings," Coston says. "People want to customize their foods on both the retail and patient sides."
Grab-and-go sections have become staples in healthcare retail operations.