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By: Dr. John T. Self

Healthcare Food Service

Depending on the size of the account, a typical Healthcare Food Service operation would have the following makeup:

  • Food Service Director
  • Production Manager
  • Cafe Manager/Catering Manager
  • Chief Clinical Dietitian

    In a smaller account, Production/Cafe/Catering Manager would be responsible for the cafe, food production for employee cafe and patient food. Catering would include staff meetings, Board of Directors functions, and Foundation fund-raisers.

    Small account managers could expect to work Monday through Friday, and rotate on-call for weekends and holidays. Larger account managers would rotate weekends every 2-3 weeks and rotate holidays with other management and supervisors. Each can expect 10- 12 hours per day.

    One thing that is different about hospitals:
    Generally the management staff is contracted, but the food service employees are hospital employees. It can be challenging to follow not only the hospital's policies and procedures but also those of your own company at the same time.

    Typical career path:
    Generally, healthcare employers are looking for managers fresh out of college. It is a good place to start with no experience. You have one of two options:

    1. Start at a small hospital - you will be exposed to more because there are fewer managers/employees so you usually end up doing a little of everything.
    2. Larger hospital - specialize in one specific job ie. Production or Cafe.

    Again, it depends on the size of the hospital. One thing to remember is that a hospital never closes so you'll do 50 - 60 hours per week.

    A typical schedule would be 7am-5pm, 8am-6pm or 10am-8pm and when you have to work weekends, 6am-2pm. There will always be coverage for all three meal periods. The focus is usually on patient tray line.

    Best Part:
    Making a positive impact on people who are in the healing process. It can also be exciting being exposed to the medical industry. You have opportunities to get involved with the hospital foundation fundraisers - golf tournaments, etc - and make a difference in a community.

    Worst Parts:

    • Unique Stressors: Because the medical staff work under very stressful conditions, it is understandable why they sometimes vent their frustrations on the foodservice department. Typical stressful situations which cause staff to erupt at you include changes patients' diets without consulting them, patients who forget that they have a different diet, or medications that can alter the way foods taste.
    • Being exposed to death: You may get to know a terminal patient through meal service.
    • Limited culinary creativity: Unless there is a lot of catering, or the hospital has a physician's dining room, you have to run a conversative menu. There is opportunity for some creativity in the cafe menu, but again that depends on the size and location of the account. A small rural location would probably be limited to comfort food, whereas a larger, teaching hospital would probably have a more sophisticated palate and diverse ethnic groups.
    • Prima donna dietitians who think they are too good to even go into the kitchen.

    Pay, Perks and Benefits:
    Straight salary; bonus is not common, but some companies have it, especially at the higher levels.

  • About the author:  John T. Self is a lecturer at The Collins School of Hospitality Management at California State Polytechnic University (Cal Poly Pomona). Prior to entering academe, Dr. Self spent fifteen years in the restaurant industry. While in the corporate world, he worked for several chains including overseeing six restaurants with sales of over twenty million dollars. He has also owned three independent restaurants. While at Golden Gate University, he started the partnership with Dalian University of Technology in Dalian, China and is continuing in that involvement at Cal Poly.

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