Three things hospitals can learn from hotel management about patient satisfaction

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As patient satisfaction and population health become increasingly important factors in the success of healthcare operations, the quality of food service plays a vital but underestimated role in hospitals achieving their primary goals.

Baby boomers, a growing portion of the patient population, bring high expectations about the quality of food they eat and it can make a big difference in the hospital they chose for their care.

The introduction of a patient-centered “room service” model--providing appealing, healthy, homemade food with choices of what and when to eat—generally improves the patient’s overall experience at a reduced cost to the organization.

The atmosphere that great foodservice provides—satisfying, comforting and healing—does not happen by accident. Through foodservice, hospital administrators have an opportunity to increase the satisfaction of patients, employees and the community, while helping their bottom line in many ways, including even the likelihood of reducing readmissions through improved nutrition.

Alignment of Vision
The hospitality industry knows how to create a positive customer experience by ensuring every department, from housekeeping to the front desk, is working towards the same goals, while giving each department flexibility to solve problems and protect the bottom line.

A self-operated facility with a skilled foodservice director brings this same vision and responsiveness to the hospital setting, ensuring the foodservice operation is positioned to help meet the rapidly evolving demands on healthcare while remaining aligned with the overall vision and mission.

A strong foodservice director is a results-driven business professional, who strategically anticipates problems and solves them creatively and constructively. The strong director is committed to excellence and to nurturing staff at all levels to ensuring they, too, are aligned with the mission.

Meeting Service Expectations
As in hotel management, the attitudes of the staff on the frontlines can make or break customer satisfaction. While patients may not always have a deep understanding of their medical condition or the quality of the medical care, everyone understands good food and quality service. A positive encounter with the staff member who brings food can help shape the patient’s impression of the entire hospital experience, demonstrating the value of having these staff members aligned with the overall vision along with clinical and administrative staff.

For hospitals, the foodservice is central to the mission because good food has clinical benefits in promoting healing and aiding recovery. Foodservice also has a role in employee satisfaction, well-being and retention since many employees have no other dining options during long, off-hours shifts. Many foodservice departments also embrace the important therapeutic role of teaching patients about the importance of food in their recovery during their stay, at discharge, and even following them home with programs that reduce readmissions by ensuring patients have access to healthy food.

Connecting to the Community
A quality foodservice department can provide a powerful link to many stakeholders in the community, among employees and in public health. In some communities, the self-operated hospital foodservice is a destination for locals who dine there even when they have no medical reason to visit the hospital. And the community gets to know the staff as neighbors as well as through initiatives such as community gardens, and cooking and nutrition classes.

If foodservice is disconnected from the hospital’s mission and it is not enhancing care, helping reduce readmissions and connecting the hospital to employees and the community, it is worth re-evaluating the role of food in the organization.

David Reeves is the president of the Association of Healthcare Foodservice Board of Directors. Reeves is the Director of Culinary Operations at ‎St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. He holds an MBA from Roosevelt University and a BS in Hotel & Restaurant Management from the University of Wisconsin-Stout.

About Association for Healthcare Foodservice
The Association for Healthcare Foodservice is the premier organization for self-operated healthcare food management professionals. AHF is governed by its members and exists to serve its members. The association is dedicated to keeping foodservice departments self-operated, in-house and homemade. For more, visit

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