Healthcare Challenges With Food Service Design
Food creates emotion. When we add the word healthcare into the conversation, well, one can guess what emotion will arise. Healthcare food services, whether in continuing care retirement communities (CCRC), assistant living, skilled care, hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, daycare or meals on wheels, have the opportunity to improve current outcomes.
As with any emotional challenge, focusing on the problem and drilling down to identify deficiencies will determine which next steps are needed to solve or limit the concern. The reason the word “limit” is used is that in many situations healthcare consumers may not have a choice in selecting their favorite foods based on medical-related restrictions. With this in mind, the challenge starts in developing and designing food service operations that meet the needs of our compromised food audiences.
Thinking about our targeted audiences, I like to start with our CCRC and assisted living operations. These programs require kitchen designs that resemble a traditional table-service restaurant offering a variety of food selections. However, these designs need to be flexible, to control nutritional requirements and overcome physical limitations.
Hospitals and rehabilitation facilities are much more complicated to design than traditional CCRC or assisted living from a food service equipment and layout perspective. The design and capability of the equipment must allow food service personnel to create the perception of food choices. food service staff must also meet the requirements of patients’ nutritional needs, not to mention the 12 or more menu spreads, coordinating med-pass, clinical procedures, meal delivery obstacles and related concerns.
Skilled nursing facilities have historically used hospital-feeding concepts but, over the past few years, have moved away from this approach in feeding residents by creating decentralized buffet-type service programs that help to create more of a perception of choice. Terminology used in the industry is country kitchen or point of service, just to name two. The challenges in trying to offer a buffet food concept include the fact that residents require feeding, frequently wish to eat in their rooms, and limited staffing. The financial abilities of skilled facilities to add staff for meal service is rare, which requires that a food service design maximize staff optimization.
Daycare and meals-on-wheels programs have still other conceptual requirements. Because the audience lives in the community, meal service needs to match the ethnic flavor expectations and social gathering environments of different neighborhoods, which are just two of the factors to which clients are accustomed. This does not take into account the specialty equipment necessary for cooking for table and delivery service, not to mention the skilled staff required to produce the meals.
In each of these examples, healthcare food service designs and concepts need to focus on delivery of service and meeting the expectations of the audience by placing customers at the center of the design and not as an off-shoot of it. Services are not peripheral activities, but are an integral part of society. Just because healthcare has been institutionalized, its food service operations should not lose sight of the service requirements of its varied audiences.