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The hospital marches on its stomach: How one hospital café kept an army of staff fed during the pandemic

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

It has been part of the QEUH since the hospital opened back in 2015, serving as a daily constant in the lives of many staff, patients and visitors – providing nourishment and service with a smile from the hardworking team. The Aroma Café and restaurant is so integrated into the fabric of the QEUH that you could be forgiven for taking it for granted. 

But it was through the lens of COVID that the true value of and contribution of the Aroma café and restaurant, and more specifically the people who staff the service, have made to the wellbeing of the hospital.  

As the nation’s shops, cafes, and other services closed down as the country went into lockdown in March 2020, the Aroma staff were working harder than ever – providing welcome respite for tired and weary staff throughout the day, with a full menu of hot food and fresh coffees served day-in, day-out seven days’ a week. 

As the numbers of healthcare staff working nightshifts suddenly increased to help cope with huge numbers of COVID-19 cases, the Aroma café staff were again there to support – swiftly establishing a night café at the request of staff who realised the benefits of a hot meal and fresh cup of coffee away from the wards during these difficult times.

Without complaint, and without additional resource, the café was able to extend its opening hours through the night thanks to the existing team who volunteered to cover the extra shifts. 

During the toughest times in the midst of the first and second waves, catering manager Eileen O’Rourke saw the café serve upwards of 100 staff each night. Eileen said:

“We recognised just how much hospital staff valued and needed a space away from the hustle and bustle of the wards, and a place to get some hot food and fresh coffee and maybe just somewhere for a chat to see some new faces.”

While the night café initially piloted for three weeks, the feedback was so overwhelmingly positive from staff that they continued to run it for another three weeks, and it soon became a mainstay of the nightshift during the peak of the pandemic. Now, with COVID-19 case numbers in hospital falling significantly, the café may go back to its regular day-time offering, but with the capacity and willingness to scale back up to provide a night service again if required.

Eileen puts the success of the café down to her staff, who, despite not being used to doing nightshifts, and staffing the café and restaurant during the day, were more than happy to take on additional shifts to help out: 

“I have an amazing team of staff who, without question or complaint, took on this new challenge. Even while we’ve had our own staffing challenges due to COVID-19, we’ve still managed to keep the café running through the night and lots of the team have given up days off to ensure hospital staff could rely on the café throughout the pandemic. It’s a real testament to the team and their willingness to support the hospital during this difficult period.”

Ann Traquair Smith, Interim Deputy Director for Unscheduled Care in the South Sector , said:

“Throughout the pandemic, the Aroma staff in the adult hospital café have provided first-class hospitality. At the request for some hot food overnight, the team changed their working patterns and covered additional shifts at extremely short notice, helping sustain clinical teams with hot meals through very difficult shifts. They did so with their usual good humour and always with a smile and friendly chat.

“They have made a significant contribution to the wellbeing of our staff and we are privileged to have such a dedicated catering team.”

For Eileen and the team at Aroma, the night café symbolises the joined up effort from all the QEUH staff in responding to the pandemic: “We all want to do our bit to help out, and we’ll continue to run the night café as long as needed. Only by everyone working together are we able to ensure patients get the best quality care throughout.”



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Last Updated: 11 November 2021