Some hospitals are getting into fine dining — Here's why

Some health facilities are reinventing hospital food by offering fine dining experiences appealing enough to draw nonpatient crowds from their communities, according to food and lifestyle blog Food52.

One such restaurant is Castle Creek Café in Aspen (Colo.) Valley Hospital, described by one avid diner as "the best kept secret in Aspen." Castle Creek Café has an expansive menu featuring high-quality dishes like herbed farro pilaf, corn soufflé and panko-crusted cod; quinoa patty with mango chutney and blueberry vinaigrette; and salmon, coconut grits, burnt onion and togarashi.

Hospital restaurants have a number of selling points when it comes to attracting nonaffiliated patrons. Because the restaurants are subsidized by the hospital, they can offer high-quality food at more affordable prices compared to conventional restaurants. Their items are also typically more health conscious.

For example, Manna, a full-service and staffed restaurant housed within Castle Rock (Colo.) Adventist Hospital, boasts a locally sourced, farm-to-table menu focused on fresh, healthy ingredients. Its motto — "Bringing God's bounty to the table."

By drawing in unaffiliated diners, elevated dining halls are giving some hospitals an extra source of much-needed income.

"Revenue generated within our retail segments is critical to offset operating expenses generated by the medical department," Miriah Smith, executive chef at Banner Desert Medical Center in Mesa, Ariz., told Food52. Banner's cafeteria features sushi, hummus bars, wood-fired pizza and a Mongolian grill, among other things.

Besides affordable and healthful fare, hospital restaurants in rural communities provide a unique benefit to the community. Their dining halls often act as gathering spaces for community members, especially if there are few traditional restaurants in the area.

"It is worth noting in some very remote communities, the hospital might be one of the only dine-out options in several miles … and one of the main community-oriented buildings [in town], along with the school and grocery store. … People congregate there to see relatives, visit people working and just to get a meal out," a reader wrote in a comment to the article.

However, the concept of a healthy person voluntarily visiting and eating in a hospital is not without its issues, the article notes. Having the option to visit a hospital for non-essential reasons is a luxury that does not extend to chronic-need, terminal or emergency patients.

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