by Laura Lentz
Associate – Project Manager
Washington, DC Office

Hospitals, like Burger King, are saying, “Have it your way!”
How hospital room service programs are changing patient satisfaction

We’ve all been there.  For me, it was about twelve years ago that I had my gall bladder removed and, due to complications, I spent three days in the hospital.  The most significant thing I remember was eating only five bowls of chicken soup, four servings of mashed potatoes, “all purpose” vegetables molded into a pea shape, and more Jell-O cups than I could count.  Through all the pain and medication, the food was still not the highlight of my stay.  So it is a pleasure to see that hospitals have recognized this shortfall and made efforts to improve their patient room service programs.

Over the past ten years, hospital foodservice programs have recognized that patients want quality choices and flexibility.  Operators across the country have implemented a number of different types of foodservice programs to give patients variety and better service.  Through personal interaction, greater menu variety, and faster delivery times (which ensures better quality), operators and owners are guaranteeing that patients “Have it Their Way!”

One way operators are personalizing the experience is by assigning a block of rooms to servers who take orders before a meal from a number of patients and then prepare, plate and serve these meals within the guaranteed service time.  Planning the kitchen equipment layout is crucial to ensure that servers do not bottleneck when trying to prepare meals. In some programs servers actually prepare meals in the main kitchen where in others food is shipped to satellite pantries for final plating.  There are many factors that affect this decision, such as hospital size, staffing levels, operator selection and capital costs, but the main goal remains the same: to accurately fill orders and deliver hot, quality food within reasonable service times.

Another room service program provides menus to patients 24 hours in advance for them to make selections but they don’t place their orders until 30 minutes before the meal is delivered.  Operationally, this method means that the order taking process becomes much like hotel room service with designated order taker stations (often in an office) that are determined by the number of beds.  In addition, dieticians must track orders effectively so that all dietary restrictions are still followed.

Much like an a la carte restaurant, foodservice design teams are creating unique kitchen layouts and equipment lines to meet the new needs of hospitals.  Many operators have detailed layouts of suggested lines including specific equipment and placement and computer systems to support servers and facilitate the promised delivery times.   Often these are then customized to include a servery, catering service and other features to fit the needs of the individual hospital. 

Hospitals are finding that patients are happier because they can order what they want to eat at mealtime.  In addition, the reduction in what is otherwise wasted food reduces expenses that can be used to offset the additional labor costs.

All these changes have been slow in coming though as hospitals confront shifts in kitchen equipment, layout, assembly lines, staffing levels and labor costs.  In addition the heightened customer service focus is a challenge.  When you consider the diversity of hospital patients, their various languages, ages, physical conditions and dietary needs, this is a formidable challenge. 

As individuals in this industry, we must recognize that there are many different types and interpretations of what hospital room service delivery programs mean to our clients.  Understanding the expectation, the need, and the overall goal are the first steps to interpreting the best solution for the final foodservice product.  It’s a dream of mine to think that I could order a burger with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and fries from a nurse after a long surgery but I’ll settle for being able to pick my vegetable and Have it My Way!

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