Branding cafeteria food as “restaurant fare” seems to be a trendy marketing ploy.
While I was certainly sorry to visit under these circumstances, I was curious to see it. This place has been getting a lot of buzz, and media releases have been touting its state-of-the-art amenities. As long as I was there, I decided I should do a little competitive mystery shopping – starting with eating lunch in the cafeteria.
I was immediately struck by the spacious, restaurant-like facility with hip colors. The place certainly looked inviting. The next thing I noticed was the “branded” restaurant fare. Backlit signage tempted diners with well-known local restaurant names – an Asian bistro, a pizza joint and an upscale seafood place. Hmmm. Curious to see what this was all about, I did a little tour.
Indeed, there were stations with reasonable likenesses of the food served in these restaurants: a pepperoni pizza, a Szechuan beef stir-fry dish, a noodle bowl with chicken and vegetables, and the seafood offering — a roasted pork loin. (Huh?)
I chose the noodle bowl. It was pretty good, although the process of watching the cafeteria worker making it was definitely not as appetizing as having it magically appear at my table in the restaurant.
As I observed the other diners, I really started to ponder the pros and cons of this strategy. The marketer in me appreciates the fresh approach. The association with well-known dining brands certainly added a panache that almost made me forget I was having lunch in a hospital cafeteria. It’s an interesting consumer-centric idea.
However, the healthy eater in me that drives my real interest in cardiovascular marketing had to wonder if this new facility had missed the mark. With articles like this continuing to surface about the lack of healthy food in hospital cafeterias, I wondered why this well-respected health system had not chosen to be a leader in providing healthy food instead of “restaurant” food.
“As health professionals, we understand the connection between healthy eating and good health, and our hospitals should be role models in this regard,” said Dr. Lenard Lesser, primary investigator and a physician in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program in the Department of Family Medicine, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
I agree with Dr. Lesser. I would have been really impressed if this hospital had chosen to design a new, improved dining experience that revolved around healthy, yet tasty food. But I understand that it must have been a business dilemma.
Is the real truth that American consumers won’t buy into a healthy food concept? To try to gain a competitive advantage, did the people at the new heart institute feel they had to give patients, visitors and staff food they want vs. food they need? It’s a conundrum. What do you think?