A Little TLC 

Hospital food gets a facelift.

You've seen it a dozen times in movies and on TV: Two doctors are standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the food line of the hospital's strictly functional, monochromatic cafeteria. As they slide their trays down the counter, pausing every so often to accept a plate of nondescript meat, something green, a carton of milk, and maybe a dish of Jell-O, they argue in sharp whispers: "Dammit, doctor, if you don't operate, the patient will die." Then one of them throws a handful of bills at the cashier and stomps off.

The scene above is a cliché that is becoming, well, a cliché. There may still be doctor dramas, but the sterile cafeteria with its forgettable food is being replaced in hospitals nationwide by something all-around more appealing, something like the Vines Cafe inside Baptist Memorial Hospital for Women.

The Vines Cafe, which opened in May 2001 along with the hospital, has artwork and outdoor seating. There are lots of windows that let the sun in and provide a view of a large fountain in the cafe's courtyard.

According to Ralph Carmouche, director of food and nutrition services for the women's hospital, "You're seeing this trend of more upscale cafes in newer hospitals, because it's easier for them to go ahead and build a new, nicer cafe than it would be for an older hospital to remake one."

The Vines is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner throughout the week and has rotating lunch and dinner menus with such items as chicken, ribs, and Southern fried catfish, greens, fried okra, and fried green tomatoes. In addition to food, the cafe offers a wide selection of exotic coffee blends, cappuccinos, and caffe mochas. There is also a candy stand and an ice cream area.

The cafe's customers mostly include hospital employees, who, Carmouche admits, are a "captive audience."

"After employees, of course," says Carmouche, "we'll see visitors and family members frequent the cafeteria, and we also sometimes allow patients to choose from the cafeteria menu as long as it doesn't interfere with their prescribed diet."

People from the surrounding community also frequent the cafe. "In fact, I know of one gentleman who told me he bypasses just about everything to come in and eat with us about once a day," Carmouche says. "I also know of an elderly couple who comes in regularly for lunch. Those kinds of things are encouraging to me."

Carmouche says the cafe also attracts visitors from Baptist's corporate offices. "We really have good food that people enjoy and really good prices, and that's what keeps people coming back, no matter who they are," Carmouche says.

Carmouche has the figures to back up his claims. The cafe regularly sends out customer-satisfaction surveys, which average about 96 percent positive.

"When we do those, we survey everybody, both our outside and internal customers," he says. "We always get a lot of comments and compliments."

The Vines Cafe, 6225 Humphreys Boulevard, inside Baptist Memorial Hospital for Women, is open Monday through Friday for breakfast from 7 to 10 a.m., lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., dinner from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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