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Advice for the Operator: Hospitals

Different types of operations face different pressures and different challenges. This series from Service Insights provides advice to specific types of foodservice establishments from long-time veterans of the equipment service and repair sector. The first story in this series focused on maintenance tips and ideas for quick-service and fast-casual restaurants.

According to Dave Fitch, field service supervisor for the Baltimore location of EMR, one of the biggest challenges for hospital foodservice is the volume of food they produce combined with the non-stop nature of the operations.

“Hospitals are essentially a ginormous fast-food restaurant that nobody thinks about. Not only do they have their cafeteria, but they also do all the meals for all the patients staying in the rooms throughout the whole hospital. They are at 24/7/365 nonstop. It doesn't matter what holiday it is. They are constantly going.”

This pressure can lead to one of the common mistakes in hospital foodservice: not addressing small problems before they become big ones. It’s always so busy, Fitch says, that it’s easy for a hospital kitchen to push off a minor repair to the next week or next month.

Before too long, that small problem has had six months to develop into a major breakdown that’s more expensive and more disruptive to the operation. Hospital foodservice leaders, then, should train their staff to speak up when they encounter a small problem, then address those problems when they arise, says Fitch.

The pressure of this service model, Fitch adds, also heightens the importance of preventative maintenance. By catching problems before they become full on breakdowns, hospitals avoid major disruptions to their kitchens.

To make the most of a preventative maintenance plan, hospital foodservice teams should build strong relationships with their equipment service providers. It’s easy to schedule a preventative maintenance call for six months out. It’s harder to limit disruptions when that call comes. By communicating well with their service partner, hospitals can keep these disruptions to a minimum.

“When we have to do the walk-ins [for a hospital], we plan it around their food deliveries, so the boxes are at their lowest capacity. There's less chance of product spoiling and it's a lot easier to get to the evaporators without pallets of food getting in the way,” says Fitch. “There's a lot of coordination with a customer and every site is completely different.”

The importance of communication carries over to emergency service calls, as well. Here, hospital foodservice directors should communicate as much as possible to their service partner about the problem. With this information, the service agency may be able to ID the likely cause of the breakdown and bring needed parts on the first truck roll versus requiring a second trip to complete a repair.

Larger hospitals, Fitch notes, could take this a step further and talk to their service partner about keeping a small stock of parts on-site. If a kitchen has 10 identical fryers, for instance, it may be worthwhile keeping a spare pilot light and thermostat for that fryer on hand.

While that may be more of a logistical challenge than a hospital foodservice operation wants to take on, it’s representative of the type of partnerships these kitchens should have with a service agency. Communicating about problems and working together to make planned and emergency calls go smoothly can help these always-busy operators run smoother, longer.

The importance of good communication applies when there’s an emergency call, too.