There aren’t many hospitals in America in which a patient can order room service, and there’s only one where that patient can choose an item inspired, planned and prepared under the guidance of a chef considered one of the nation’s best.
The University of Alabama at Birmingham hospital went to a full-time room-service approach for all patient meals in October 2010. In mid-December, renowned local chef Frank Stitt, a James Beard-award winner, came onboard. The room-service menu now boasts three special Frank Stitt creations.
“I wanted to provide a few dishes that would be exciting, good food,” said Stitt. “Hospitals are about getting better, and we wanted choices that would be healthy, nutritious and promote healing.”
The regular room-service menu features an array of choices from salads to burgers, pizza to entrees. Patients make their choices from an in-room menu, the meal is cooked to order and then delivered within 45 minutes. The Stitt-inspired items are a chicken/vegetable soup, an Italian frittata and a homemade, fruit milkshake.
“One of the keys is that we produce these dishes just as they would be produced in one of Chef Stitt’s restaurants,” said Charlotte Beeker, director of food and nutrition services for the hospital. “We get the ingredients from the same vendors as Chef Stitt and prepare the dishes from his instructions. Our chefs and cooks spent time in his kitchens learning at his side to ensure that our approach was consistent with his.”
“It was great to see the enthusiasm and interest in the UAB staff when they trained in our kitchen,” said Stitt. “Whenever you can see that enthusiasm in a cook, you know you’ve touched their heart and touched their mind, and hopefully that excitement and enthusiasm will carry over to the patients.”
Stitt, who owns three prominent Birmingham restaurants – Highlands Bar and Grill, Bottega Café and Chez Fonfon – has long championed using fresh, locally grown and organic ingredients in all his dishes.
“I think good, healthy food can help nourish, restore and rejuvenate people who are in the hospital. Food can be a big part of healing,” Stitt said.
UAB executive chef Donnell Johnson says the entire menu is designed to help promote healing, with nutritious recipes and fresh ingredients. And it can’t hurt if the patient thinks they are getting pampered, just a bit.
“It will be fun for people, when they go home from the hospital, to be able to say they had a meal from Chef Frank Stitt.”
Room service is a growing trend, especially in small or boutique hospitals. UAB officials say that to their knowledge, the university’s hospital is the largest in the nation to go to a full time, room-service approach.
"Shifting to hotel-style room service represents a major change in the process for us," said Beeker. "Previously, like most large institutions, we were a cook and chill service, where food was cooked, flash chilled and then re-heated as needed. Now, all meals are cooked to order."
Every patient has a menu in their room similar to a typical restaurant menu. The patient, family member or nurse calls in the order between the hours of 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
"We think this will allow for a better patient experience," Beeker said. "Patients order what they want to eat when they want to eat it rather than have a food tray appear in their room on our schedule."
The hotel-style room service does not add any additional costs to the patient's stay. The hospital anticipates a cost-savings based on less wasted food. Beeker says there will be advantages now that the patient is in control of when they receive their food.
"If a patient has just come back to the room from a procedure, they may not want a large meal, but they might be able to eat a warm bowl of soup," she said. "Or if they finished therapy at 4:30 p.m., they might want to wait until 6:30 p.m. to eat dinner. It should improve our patient-centered experience."
Besides the Stitt creations, breakfast options include low-cholesterol scrambled eggs, buttermilk pancakes, French toast and omelettes. Bakery items including muffins, biscuits and bagels also are available as are a variety of fruits, yogurts, cereals and side items, including bacon, sausage and hash browns.
Lunch and dinner options include soups and salads, entrée salads, deli and grilled sandwiches and numerous sides and desserts, including sugar free offerings. Entrees include golden crusted chicken breast, lemon baked tilapia and home-style beef pot roast and gravy among other choices.
The menu also is marked to note heart-healthy menu items and the number of carbohydrates in certain offerings. The system also is set up so patients or their family members won't order something inappropriate if the patient is on a restricted diet.
Frank Stitt is also the author of two highly regarded cookbooks, Frank Stitt’s Southern Table, and Frank Stitt’s Bottega Favorita.