Top Three Obstacles in Hospital Food Production and How to Combat Them
If you are reading this article right now, I don’t have to tell you what a challenge food production at the institutional level can be. There are a myriad of trials and tribulations every chef, cook and purchaser face every day, and it’s not getting easier.
When I was asked to provide some insight into what the biggest obstacles in successful food production are, as a Computrition project manager, I could narrow it to three. I don’t pretend to have all the solutions, but I hope my observations can provide some food for thought (pun intended).
Knowing Your Customer, Knowing Your Menu
I recently worked with a hospital that needed Hospitality Suite to provide necessary automation to make their patient management and food operations function properly and more efficiently. After all, that is why you acquire automation as an organization. Patients scored food service in the 90th percentile – scores that would make any department proud. Nonetheless the production staff felt they were not “cutting edge” enough with their service and prodded me to advise them on what it would take to go to a room service style menu and kitchen setup.
Now, I am all for innovation and leading the pack, but sometimes chefs don’t see the forest from the trees in regards to their clientele. This facility had a substantially aged census, so it was unlikely that even a third would pick up a phone. It was clear from the scores that they preferred the bedside spoken menu protocol already in place and the average length of stay was three days, so the patients were unlikely to get bored with the current cycle. Also, because of the average patient age, dynamic haute cuisine was not high on the patients’ list per the survey results. Lastly, in order to realize true room service, the kitchen remodel would have cost over $500K!
You may ask what does this have to do with food production? It has everything to do with it. Being able to recognize the good things you have in your kitchen can help you realize your goal of improving scores by a couple of percentage points might just mean “tweaking” the menu, not rebuilding Rome. Innovation just for innovation’s sake is not worth the time and dollars.
Matching Your Staff with Your Menu
I work with many facilities around the country and it is amazing how varied the kitchens, menus and staffs are from one another. Some locations have armies of cooks ready to go as far as break down beef primals in their butcher shop. Others have minute staffs that don’t even chop their own onions.
The truth is somewhere in between, as most kitchens fall in the middle of this range. That being said, I have a couple of questions for you.
Are you maximizing the size/skill level of your cook staff with the menus and recipes you are serving and the items you are purchasing? Next, are you inadvertently complicating the production of your recipes at the expense of your staff?
To the first question, many sites are asking their staff to produce recipes beyond their skill level because “that’s how we always did it.” 10 years ago hospital cooks were on average, more skilled than they are now and their numbers were greater. When you consider your menu and what it takes to produce it, along with the items used, you should do what you can to balance it out to maximize quality and efficiency.
In regards to the second question, too often I work with kitchens that feel making roast beef is a 3-day process – process roast one day, cook one day, cool the next and slice on service day. Now I am not saying we should all buy beef pre-roasted. What I am saying is, more day-of and day-before service production maximizes the focus of the cooks’ attention each day, promoting more efficient scheduling of production and purchasing practices and in many ways ensuring fresher tasting food.
Customer Satisfaction: It’s Not All About the Food
My last topic centers around the place your menu serves in providing total customer experience. Of course food is at the apex, but there are other factors that go into maximum patient satisfaction.
Does your menu/production needs compliment the method of service/delivery?
I have worked with locations that produce excellent menu items but the shelf life lacked the longevity required for extended holding periods. Another concern would be the state of the plate by the time it reaches the proper cart/floor/station/patient. Maximize the staying power of your menu items if the situation demands it.
Are your menu costs properly balanced to maximize customer value from top to bottom of the menu?
I have found this to be a potential issue in regards to room service. The main (or perceived) main entrée and its sides dominate the menu in both quality and cost, at the expense (or lack thereof) of the other offerings. You want to make sure that a patient’s options have great appeal from top to bottom of the menu and that you are not breaking the bank to do so. Signature dishes have great value but not at the expense of the alternatives.
As I said before, food production has its challenges, even in 2017, and will continue to do so in the future. It is an art and a science. As I visit more facilities this year, I can only tip my cap to those who do well every day. I hope that this article provides a moment of contemplation and maybe perhaps some inspiration.
Article by: Gordon Hein, Project Manager; Fusion, 2nd Quarter, 2017