Maximizing the profit potential of retail foodservice means matching menu offerings to diners’ ever-changing demands and whims. It means making the best possible use of every available space and every hour of the day and night. And it means merchandising aggressively with eye-catching displays to capture impulse purchases. Merchandising carts and kiosks are literally made to order to meet all of these needs.
These mobile or fixed food-and-beverage stations allow healthcare facilities to offer more menu options without the cost of expanding or remodeling the existing cafeteria. Spreading out foodservice options can increase total traffic and revenue even as it alleviates dining-area congestion. Carts and kiosks can be placed almost anywhere—the main lobby, reception and waiting areas, even in hallways.
One consultant sees intangible as well as practical benefits in the proliferation of carts and kiosks in healthcare foodservice settings. “It’s healing,” she muses. “It’s inspiring to have herbal teas and homemade cakes in a lobby that, years ago, would have been just a lobby.”
Another sees the new attention to carts and kiosks as part and parcel of a greater appreciation of the role of foodservice in healthcare. “The cafeteria has become, over the last couple of years, a major focus for hospitals because it helps them build their brand around something other than physician care, and allows them to address the general experience of patients, family members and other visitors,” he explains. “These hospitals can expand their market share by differentiating themselves through their foodservice program.”
Coffee bars in hospital lobbies have been around for some time now. Many have expanded their hours and offerings, perhaps purveying smoothies in the afternoon and stocking grab-and-go salads and sandwiches as well as c-store-type packaged snacks for noon-to-evening dayparts.
But carts and kiosks have myriad applications in healthcare foodservice beyond lobby coffee bars. These units can range in size from 3-ft. mobile carts to 15-by- 20-ft. fixed food stations. Modular options offer various configurations and combinations. The modules can often be separated so that different parts can be used at different times of day; for instance, all sections may be in use during high-traffic meal periods, but at less-busy times only the beverage section and the sandwich section may be operating while other modules are rolled away.
A kiosk or cart setup can include hot and/or cold food wells; refrigeration (both under-cart cold storage and chilled grab-and-go cases); sandwich or salad prep stations; even induction cooktops for stir-fries or other types of display cooking that add a sense of theater and excitement to meal service. Food shields and ventless hood systems may be included. There may be counter space and an electrical outlet for a POS system. Locked storage cabinets and pull-down windows (via overhead canopies) can provide security at “down” times. (Employees usually remove and store food ingredients and POS systems elsewhere at night.)
With so many options and configurations available, carts and kiosks allow foodservice operators to think more creatively about what they can offer staff members and visitors as well as when and where. In the main dining room, these auxiliary stations can alleviate congestion and long lines in the servery at rush periods. Elsewhere, they can provide quick, convenient food and beverage service for customers unwilling or unable to make the long trek to the cafeteria. A cart used for hot cereals at breakfast can offer soups later in the day. A counter in the cafeteria or elsewhere can highlight a different ethnic cuisine each day of the week, or a daily special made from locally sourced ingredients. A specialty station can offer menu items that are allergen-free, gluten-free or vegan, without cross-contamination from other types of foods.
Unlike fixed foodservice installations, carts and kiosks typically require no infrastructure upgrades. Electric service is usually a single wall plug that accommodates everything—coffee maker, blender, induction cooktop, refrigerator, POS, pendant lighting, etc.—allowing the station to be set up anywhere in the hospital. (Individual equipment pieces typically drop into the counter and either plug into outlets inside the cabinet body that are wired to a main panel box or, if required, directly hardwired into the panel box.) While smaller induction carts typically use standard 120V, larger carts and kiosks with lots of equipment, such as refrigeration for storage and display merchandisers along with coffee equipment, will require more power. Electrical requirements depend on the amount and type of equipment.
If sinks are part of the setup, tap water and wastewater are in self-contained tanks, usually filled and dumped, respectively, just once a day.
Designed To Sell
Carts and kiosks can be utilitarian or high-style. Decorative panels, textured wood- or stone-like surfaces, canopies, pendant lighting and branded signage can make the cart or kiosk harmonize with the facility’s overall décor or stand out from a bland background. Dynamic digital signage—or a rustic, low-tech chalkboard—can notify diners of ever-changing menus and specials.
Foodservice presentation is your stage, points out one sales professional. “If it doesn’t have the right props, the right background, the right lighting, you won’t capture the fullest possible customer experience,” she says.
Do Your Homework
Below are key questions that experts say you should go over with your consultant before purchasing a cart or kiosk setup for your healthcare facility. Manufacturers’ sales professionals have their own checklists and can advise you on detailed specifications.
- What is your overall goal? What is your proposed foodservice concept?
- What menu items do you plan to serve? (This will determine what components you will need—hot or cold wells, grill stations, refrigeration, etc.)
- How many customers do you expect to serve from this station over what time period? (The number, size and configuration of serving counters will depend on this answer.)
- What is the project budget?
- What’s the blueprint of the available space? Are there any height restrictions? Is the area well ventilated?
- What configuration do you have in mind?
- Do you have a backup storage area? Where?
- What type of electrical service is available or could be installed? If the unit will feature sinks, what type of water service is available or could be installed?
- Is a floor drain available to drain the wastewater tank? (It’s a help, but expensive and not absolutely necessary.)
- What are your labor requirements and costs? If employees are prepping food, you’ll want a hand sink. If one person will staff the cart or kiosk, think ergonomically. Give employees enough room to work; and don’t force them to reach across a too-large counter or station.
- Do you want casters? Will the cart or kiosk be mobile or stationary? (The reality is that most are never moved.)
- What local health codes might affect your plan? (For instance, a few jurisdictions require an exhaust hood if any cooking is being done; some allow ventless hood systems; some equipment has no hood requirement.)
- How long do you expect this station to be in service? Are you thinking of using the cart or kiosk in a different way a few years down the road?
- What material should be used to construct your cart or kiosk? Most manufacturers strongly recommend a stainless core for long-lasting strength, water resistance and ease of cleaning; visible surfaces can be made of durable materials that mimic wood, tile or stone, and can be switched out if you want to change your look later.
- What type of design are you going for? Do you want a high-end look? Do you want the cart or kiosk to blend in with your décor, or to stand out? What décor elements do you want? Elements to consider include panels, counter surfaces, canopies, lighting, eye-catching signage, etc.
- When do you want to open this concept? What are your expectations for delivery and installation, and how fast a turnaround do you need? (Large manufacturers that have plants in the U.S. generally can deliver and set up your cart or kiosk within a few weeks after the order is placed.)
All Star Carts & Kiosks, allstarcarts.com
BSI LLC, bsidesigns.com
The Carriage Works, carriageworks.com
Carts of Colorado, cartsofcolorado.com
CMC Espresso Inc., cmcespresso.com
Custom Mobile Food Equipment, custommobilefoodequipment.com
Duke Mfg., dukemfg.com
Galley Inc., gallyline.com
Lakeside Mfg., elakesidefoodservice.com
LTI Inc., lowtempind.com
Multiteria USA, multiteriausa.com
Nelson Mfg. Co., cnelson.com
Randell/Unified Brands, unifiedbrands.net
RPI Industries, rpiindustries.com
Southern Equipment Fabricators, southernequipmentfabricators.com
Vollrath Co., vollrath.com