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Room Service Food Delivery Models for Hospital In-Patients: Perspectives and Experiences

Last updated: June 24, 2019
Project Number: RC1131-000
Product Line: Rapid Response
Research Type: Devices and Systems
Report Type: Summary with Critical Appraisal
Result type: Report


  1. What are in-patients’ and their families’ expectations of hospital food and its delivery?
  2. How do in-patients and their families experience and perceive hospital food and its delivery?
  3. What are health care providers’ expectations of hospital food delivery models and how do they engage with them?
  4. How do health care providers experience and perceive hospital food delivery models, and what challenges or benefits do they experience when engaging with them?

Key Message

In total, 19 studies were included in this review that explored patients’ satisfaction with hospital food and its delivery, and patients’, and hospital staff’s experiences and perspectives regarding alternative room service food delivery models for in-patients.In general, results from patient satisfaction studies suggest that alternative food delivery models have the potential to increase patient satisfaction when compared to traditional meal delivery service. However, the models under investigation were very heterogeneous, making it difficult to pinpoint which aspects of the alternative models improved patient satisfaction, and in which ways. Despite heterogeneity, common elements of alternative food delivery models that were seen to be related to increased satisfaction, as compared to traditional food delivery, included: food taste, texture, smell, presentation, and quality; and, availability of choice in terms of food selection, portion size, and time of service. It appears that patient satisfaction with food delivery is influenced not just by the quality of the food but also by the way food is presented and delivered.Patients and their health care providers appreciated delivery models that added both choice and flexibility to menu options. Having the ability to choose from various menu options allows patients to select meals that are more in line with their preferences, personalized eating habits and culinary practices, and may offer a sense of control amidst an otherwise institutionalized and regimented experience. For hospital personnel, not having the ability to individualize meals for patients, or offer snacks between meals, is perceived as a barrier to meeting patients’ nutritional needs, and which led them to express frustration and feelings of powerlessness. Hospital staff raised concerns about the food budget and outsourcing of food as reasons for the lack of variety in meal options, suggesting that attention to budget and not nutritional content results in unintended negative consequences including decreased satisfaction, patient choice and food quality.Flexibility in meal delivery times enables patients to match their meals with their appetites, which may change in the gap between traditional food ordering and delivery and result in uneaten or partially eaten meals. On-demand, cart delivery systems or flexible mealtimes that allow patients to choose their meal at the time of consumption are particularly important for people undergoing certain types of treatment, such as chemotherapy, which alters the senses of taste and smell. Both patients and health care providers commented that inconvenient or inappropriate delivery times were concerning due to missed or uneaten meals, which adversely impacts nutritional care.