‘Happy to be here’: Chris Grauer-Hirt spreads positivity through Food and Nutrition Services

After nearly 25 years with UI Health Care, Chris Grauer-Hirt still wakes up each morning at 4 a.m. excited for work, and doesn’t leave until there’s nothing left for her to do at the end of the day.

The early mornings and late nights don’t bother Grauer-Hirt, assistant director of retail and catering for Food and Nutrition Services (FNS), who oversees the Fountain Dining Room, the Marketplace, and the Compass Express.

Chris Grauer-Hirt, assistant director of retail and catering for Food and Nutrition Services

“I’ve always been the type of person who, if I can do a job well, that satisfies me,” she says. “I make a list of things I want to accomplish, and then just checking it off feels good.”

Cultivating a positive environment

A primary aspect of Grauer-Hirt’s job is coming up with new ways to brighten the day of employees, patients, and others at the hospital.

“The staff here are great, but they likely have visitors or patients who are probably having a bad day,” she says. “So, they look forward to the food and coming down to the cafeteria.”

Though the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t come without its challenges, Grauer-Hirt says it has also been an opportunity for change and innovation through new ways to encourage people. The cafeteria added menu options, including the fan favorite build-your-own station, and decorated some of its under-utilized spaces.

“We built some holiday, winter-themed scenes and some positive sayings for the walls, just to try and motivate people during a really difficult time,” she says.

The FNS department provides services for various patient populations and specialty units, in multiple cafeterias and dining areas, and by catering many hospital events.

The environment in the cafeterias and other FNS locations is friendly and inviting, Grauer-Hirt says, so people want to come and visit.

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“FNS is important to the hospital because we’ve got so many different facets—whether it’s in patient care, or any of the staff and employees who are here; whether it’s events that we do or just daily meetings or even conferences and such,” she says. “We have so many different roles, and I think it’s just really critical to this hospital.”

A team effort

Grauer-Hirt says most of the work that she does would not be possible without the dedication of her colleagues and employees.

“I couldn’t get through the day without the great team that I have,” she says.

Grauer-Hirt also encourages them to set small goals—like how many tacos to sell in a day—to effect larger change and be more efficient overall.

“I think setting goals helps boost our employees’ engagement; they want to do their best. They want to succeed,” she says.

For Grauer-Hirt, interaction with her colleagues and employees is really important for considering new ideas and perspectives and brainstorming change.

“I want to be someone that leads by example,” she says. “If my employees see that I’m taking on new initiatives and being excited about things that are going on, it will hopefully motivate them to do the same—and to be happy to be here.”


  1. I appreciate the friendly and helpful food service staff. I also appreciate the different and new food items.. such as the delicious street tacos. Thanks for all that you and your staff do.

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