By Nigel Packer
Chefs in large-scale hospital catering operations are suffering widespread job dissatisfaction, according to a new report.
The Worshipful Company of Cooks says the move towards reheating of pre-prepared food in many hospitals has left chefs with "little room for individual decision-making or creativity".
The company's Centre for Culinary Research, based at Bournemouth University, undertook research in 14 hospitals, half of which were smaller operations using traditional cook-and-serve procedures, while the remainder used large-scale catering systems.
Dr Darren Lee-Ross, who wrote the Grilling The Chefs report, says the large-scale systems have "gradually deskilled the job of chef", whatever the logistical advantages of such an approach.
"Some chefs no longer cook and serve food but simply reheat or assemble meals from items supplied ready or partially prepared," he said. "Under these conditions job dissatisfaction is an extremely likely outcome."
Although chefs may not quit their jobs, there is a possibility of increased absenteeism, poor performance and decreased productivity, said Lee-Ross, who believes that steps can be taken to improve the situation.
"Skill variety and autonomy are powerful determinants of worker motivation," he said. "With this knowledge, creative hospitality managers should be able to reskill some work elements."
The report also questions the quality of some pre-prepared meals, which it says can be held for long periods at temperatures which are too high or low. "Despite significant progress in the range of menu items on offer in hospitals, food is still generally perceived as dull and uninteresting," said Lee-Ross.
He added that the amount of food patients left on the plate in hospital suggests that the catering could be improved.