Hospital cafeterias are important places. Great progress has been made over the last few years in raising the standard of the food served (to both patients and staff!), with much more emphasis too on making the options healthier and nutritious.
Speaking as someone who has worked in several different hospitals, and with my own general interest in health care quality and improving the patient experience, it’s always very interesting to look at every hospital’s cafeteria and how it’s run. Before I go further, however, I’d like to base what I’m about to say on a theory called thin-slicing. For those of you unfamiliar, it’s a theory in psychology that says you can use the shortest of time periods and snapshots to gain profound insights into any given situation. It can equally apply to a person or an institution.
For example, fascinating studies have been done looking into people’s facial smiles in photos and their life outcomes, which I’d encourage anyone to read about. Another example is the advice that rather than interview someone for a job and ask a series of questions about their organizational skills and competency, just take a picture of their bedroom. How they keep their room will tell you more about them than sitting and asking them questions for 30 minutes. An intriguing phenomenon, and a strong school of thought in psychology believes it to be valid.
Having said that, here are three things the hospital cafeteria will tell you about the whole organization:
1. Staffing. Perhaps the biggest red flag of a poorly run hospital is that it’s cafeteria will seem woefully understaffed — with extremely long lines during busy times, exhausted looking and impolite team members, and inadequately stocked counters. Another telling sign is seeing staff who are forced to multitask to an extreme degree, such as a cashier also functioning as a food server or cleaner (while people are also waiting to be served). If the cafeteria is understaffed, perhaps other hospital departments follow suit?
2. Organized. Look at how the cafeteria is organized — from where different food items are placed, to whether everything is arranged logically and intuitively. Is it easy to find what you need or does everything appear completely random? A well laid-out and modern-looking cafeteria is usually the hallmark of a great hospital.
3. Cleanliness. Does the cafeteria look dirty and poorly maintained? This applies to all locations, including the dining spaces, countertops, and floors. During peak times, there should be regular cleaning of all seating areas and tables, and it shouldn’t fall to the next person who uses the table to give it a wipe clean! If the hospital struggles to keep tidy the places where their own staff dine, what hope for the patients?
Many hospitals outsource their food services to third party companies, who also hire their own staff. But no hospital that takes pride in its own status will ever put up with a poorly managed or maintained cafeteria. One that does says an awful lot about the whole place, and should be a big red flag to everyone who walks through its doors.
Suneel Dhand is an internal medicine physician and author of Thomas Jefferson: Lessons from a Secret Buddha and High Percentage Wellness Steps: Natural, Proven, Everyday Steps to Improve Your Health & Well-being. He blogs at his self-titled site, Suneel Dhand.
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