Geelong hospital implements world-class ‘room service’ food system
Photography by Bec Hudson.
Geelong’s new Epworth Hospital has dramatically redesigned how hospitals supply meals to patients, taking on a personalised, world-class approach.
Hospitality services manager Alan Kurrle led the implementation of the system, which allows patients to order at any time between 7am-9pm and caters to dietary restrictions. “[Room service meals at hospitals are] quite a big thing in America,” he says. “The difference is that in America a lot of their food is diner-style fast food, which isn’t going to cut it here in Australia.”
The concept caught the attention of Epworth Richmond hospital’s head chef, Paul Hayes, and hospitality services manager, Andrea Hunter, a few years back. Soon after, Kurrle came on board and the idea started to become a reality.
“Hospital ‘room service’ is unlike any other setting. Different to room service in a hotel, different to a restaurant, and different to a traditional hospital kitchen,” Kurrle says.
“Instead of having one menu, we have about 20 running simultaneously for each diet code. So we adjust meals as they come.”
The hospital’s kitchen was designed to cater largely to suit an updated process. “Traditionally you have a preparation area and a bulk cooking area, and then a large production conveyor belt,” Kurrle explains. “Then at meal service time, trays go on the belt with the menu the patient has ordered the day before and you add things onto the tray and then it is delivered.” The new system eliminates the large space used for lining up trays, and allows the kitchen to be set up more like that of a restaurant.
Ward hosts take the meals to the patients, which is also a new element to the food set up. Traditionally, patients would have about 14-16 different people visiting them for food services every day – one for each meal, morning and afternoon tea/supper, someone delivering and collecting, and menu monitors. These staff also complete other jobs when it isn’t meal time.
Because patients can order a meal whenever they like at Geelong, Kurrle has reduced his food staff to two people a day – one ward host working in the morning and another in the evening – and they are dedicated to food services only, leaving patients feeling familiar with those who are looking after them, and leaving staff with a clearer focus.
“The feedback we’ve already received has been amazing. People have even mentioned our ward hosts by name; they can’t believe the service they’re receiving. And the ward hosts absolutely love their jobs, they say it’s the best job they’ve ever had. They’re really enjoying it,” he says.
“It’s about the service we’re providing, if you go to a restaurant or a hotel, the person bringing the meal to you can be the make or break between having a great experience or a bad one. So that was definitely the focus for us.
“I guess my top goals with this were to ensure the safety of the staff and the patients in respect of OH&S and food safety, secondly to ensure that everyone is happy, because if people aren’t happy doing what they’re doing, you’ve got no hope of improving or moving on. Now people are excited to come to work. The engagement has been amazing, and I haven’t seen an unhappy face in here.”