Hospital Dietary: 3 Reasons You Should Outsource in a Pandemic

A patient reaches for a bowl of food

Have you ever actually stopped to think what is the definition of care? defines it best as “The provision of what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection of someone or something”.

When you apply this to a hospital, it creates a laundry list of tasks requiring completion to ensure someone receives proper care for a rapid recovery and return to health. Think about all the provisions that were involved during a hospital stay by yourself or a loved one. Dispensing medications, repeatedly taking vital statistics, proper nutrition, cleanliness of all spaces, medical staff and patient communication…the list goes on and on! It takes a ton of resources to effectively run a hospital and the ugly truth for providers is that in recent months, it has been quite difficult to provide the best care in our trusted medical centers.

As we embark into the last half of 2021, we find ourselves in a familiar yet unsettling situation. The unwelcomed COVID-19 resurgence of the Delta Variant is placing yet another severe strain on the capacities of a healthcare system that is still trying to recover from the impacts of the first COVID-19 wave. With US hospitals reporting hundreds of staffing shortages due to burnout combined with the highest levels of new COVID related hospitalizations since the beginning of the pandemic, our healthcare industry is in dire need of relief.

When administrators rank a “wish list” of things that could help them provide better care, let’s be honest the dietary department and benefits of nutrient rich foods probably aren’t very high on their list. But shouldn’t all patient-centric considerations be equally ranked and executed? Proper nutrition is critical to survival and healing, so it is imperative to find a way to bring the evolving complexities of the dietary department to the forefront.  Food services must remain a definitive component of not only your care plan, but a key lever in staff retention.

So, as a hospital administrator who considers nutrition a vital part of your care plan, wouldn’t partnering with a professional firm to manage one of your most critical care components alleviate some stress from your current situation?

Change is scary, particularly when so many disciplines of a traditional operating model are tested by the strain of this pandemic. But as we balance the pressures of the current climate against the duration in which this added strain on hospitals will last, aligning with proven expertise can minimize risk and alleviate pressure.  When you think about your dietary department in its current state, ask yourself “Is it good enough?”. Acting now with the right partner could help sustain your facility through the hard times and position your hospital for strength when acute needs normalize.

Here are 3 reasons why you should consider outsourcing your dietary department, even during a pandemic:

  1. Workforce Stability

If you asked anyone in hospital administration today what is their #1 concern the answer will likely be having the right number of medical professionals and staff to service patients. This translates into a larger epidemic – labor shortages. Staff are burned out from the pandemic, work from home and in-home care jobs are abundant, and COVID-related responsibilities are making it difficult to backfill critical healthcare positions. These shortages apply to clinical as well as non-clinical positions and affect the health of those in your care.

Do you find it difficult to fill position vacancies in your dietary department? Contract foodservice firms bring a depth of resources to stabilize retail and culinary responsibilities, chief among them is labor solutions. While many times the resources include a broader recruiting reach, it can also mean financial benefits that offset the demand for labor. By reviewing service flow through facility redesigns, technology to enhance the user experience, or community engagement that tap into new revenue streams – there are multiple strategies that can help efficiently re-deploy your already challenged labor pool. Whatever the motive, entrusting a professional firm that specializes in healthcare dietary needs is much like having a trained surgeon restore your health: They are an expert in their respective field with specialized strategies and tools to ensure success. Wouldn’t you want a specialist in hospitality solutions overseeing your targeted dietary needs, so you don’t have to?

  1. Employee Morale

While hospitals will continue to struggle in maintaining a continual pool of job applicants, the one area administrators can make concerted efforts towards is enhancing employee morale. It is more imperative than ever to recognize, train and retain current talent. Wherever you can inject a slight break in someone’s day, it is always a win!

Wanting food is undeniably basic human instinct. Individuals are inherently programmed to eat, and your staff not only need food as fuel to achieve your daily goals, but they love food! A recent survey showed that 90% of Americans enjoy eating at a restaurant and 60% of diners say the most important feature in their experience is the food.  Dining brings us together and what better way to motivate your staff than by reimagining the onsite food offerings. Clinical staff have minimal time to grab a much-needed meal break. Professional dining providers bring culinary expertise, fresh menu ideas and clear recommendations to turn your onsite dining program into a differentiating employee benefit. Enhancing your retail offering and the way it’s delivered during a pandemic will significantly benefit not only your team, but the visitors and community your dietary department serve.

  1. Supply Chain Relief

Outsourced dietary providers have substantial resources when it comes to procuring dining goods, food, and supplies. It’s a key component of what they do! Having a specialized procurement partner is extremely beneficial during events such as the pandemic where common goods have become scarce.  With national buying contracts, their reach goes beyond the lack of workers, shipping, and overall production.  Organizations such as Unidine’s Healthcare Culinary Group not only leverage the overall purchasing power of their global parent company Compass Group, but since they prepare everything from scratch, supply purchases are made higher up at the commodity level where the demand is lower and supply is richer. This not only minimizes product disruptions but also avoids the unexpected cost increases forced from most shortages. By outsourcing dietary, the burden of supply shorts can be minimized, patient nutrition maintained, and staff satisfaction upheld so administrators can focus on healing.


COVID-19 is pushing the limits of hospitals nationwide and when the demand for care is larger than your capacity, the primary concern is to save lives. The dietary department is a subset of your care plan and if “Not Good Enough” comes to mind for your current program, perhaps it’s time to reach out for help. Historically rural community hospitals struggle the most with finding a qualified dining partner due to limited options for outsourcing and with the pandemic placing a heavier burden on prioritizing what’s important, healthcare dining tends to create more difficulties. Unidine’s Healthcare Culinary Group is one of the few options out there strategically positioned to support smaller community providers. A common myth is outsourcing negatively impacts the bottom line, but the truth is, strategic third-party partnership models deliver a reimagined program that offers cost neutral or better financial savings.

If the thought of transitioning a dietary program during this time of chaos seems overwhelming, just know there are options from experienced foodservice professionals who can provide an empathetic and calculated transition plan to help make patient care more efficient. We all need our local healthcare systems to support our community – since we’re all in this together, let’s work together.


Derek Harris is Director of Business Development for Unidine’s Healthcare Culinary Group