Erlanger assures staff that new food service contract won't drop favorite eateries

photo A proposed rendering, one of many under consideration, for the new design of Erlanger's cafeteria. Aramark, which took over the contract to offer food services at the hospital, plans to spend $10 million on the renovation.

Doctor shortages and health care changes aside, some of Erlanger's staff are fretting that a new hospital food service contract could force them to give up their post-surgery cinnamon dolce latte, grilled chicken cool wrap or philly cheesesteak.

But those morning macchiatos, chicken nuggets and club sandwiches aren't going anywhere, thanks to the continuing popularity of the hospital's Starbucks location that will remain in place along with the ever popular Chick-fil-a and Subway, hospital officials have confirmed.

"Those three venues, we have found to be very popular, and we anticipate those moving through the transition and continue to be in place," said Gregg Gentry, chief administrative officer for Erlanger Health System.

That's not to say there won't be a disruption in diet. A $10 million renovation by Aramark, which is assuming control over the hospital's food service from previous vendor Sodexo and from Erlanger's own staff, will require as many as 36 months to complete.

And there will be new flavors in the cafeteria as well, Gentry said.

"We're going to invite chefs from various restaurants in, so we can recognize and spotlight a chef, and so our visitors can be exposed to the chef," he said.

Workers will be forced to temporarily close locations as they renovate and modify each one in turn. The cafeteria and the restaurants will receive both a visual face lift and new kitchen equipment, Gentry said, although many specifics remain to be determined in upcoming negotiations.

The renovation will bring other changes as well. Many Sodexo employees and all of Erlanger's own food staff will be making the transition to Aramark by March 1, the effective date of the contract.

Philadelphia-based Aramark, which employs more than 270,000 workers worldwide at institutions ranging from prisons to parks, became a publicly-traded company on Dec. 12, 2013, and offers food, facilities management and uniform services.

The corporation already provides food service at Chattanooga-based Unum through its Atrium Cafe, as well as at UTC's University Center and Crossroads dining facilities.

"Aramark has many hospitals in the nation, so they understand the hospital business," Gentry said.

Though Erlanger on March 1 will be outsourcing virtually all of its food service operations, it's not as if the hospital is completely abdicating responsibility for good grub. The hospital still owns the building itself, and retains some control over what can be done within its four walls. The contract will also include what Gentry calls "performance metrics," which will ensure that food quality remains at an acceptable level.

"We want to make sure that both Aramark and Erlanger are exceptionally pleased," he said.

Contact staff writer Ellis Smith, or 423-757-6315.