The Good Kitchen food service

Client: Municipality of Holstebro
Design Agency: Hatch & Bloom
Location: Denmark

The Good Kitchen. Improved food service equals better life quality for elderly people.

What was the problem?

In autumn 2007 the Danish idea- and design agency, Hatch & Bloom was assigned to design a new meal service for The Municipality of Holstebro. The goal was to deliver a new type of meal service in Denmark, with more quality, more flexibility and more freedom of choice.

More than 125,000 senior citizens are dependent on food services in Denmark today and these numbers are set to soar in years to come. Most senior citizens feel they lose their dignity and become even less active when no longer capable of cooking and shopping. This often leads to a lower quality of life, reduced appetite, and further deterioration in health. Inadequate nutrition is a huge problem among the elderly. 60% in assisted living have poor nutrition and, of those, 20% are actually malnourished.


What did they do?

The innovation agency Hatch & Bloom worked with Holstebro to develop a service design solution covering all aspects of their public food service system. Hatch & Bloom’s “design anthropologists” conducted ethnographic research into user behavior, looking for needs and wishes both spoken and unspoken. By observing and interviewing users, the agency learned that food services relate to many issues beyond the actual food, gaining insights concerning packaging, colors, loneliness, meal sizes and preferred dining environment. Many interviewees, for instance, were embarrassed at having a van marked in large type “HOLSTEBRO MUNICIPAL MEAL SERVICE” outside their homes.

Workshops were conducted with senior citizens and all other relevant parties, including kitchen staff, using idea development methods such as “radical analogies”. This inspires new ways of thinking by referencing something that is different but similar – in this case a restaurant and a meal service for a family with children. Kitchen staff were asked questions such as, “What if the senior citizens were paying guests in a restaurant?”

The designers also invited a gourmet chef to the kitchen to increase staff pride in food preparation and provide tips on things like styling, color mix and portion sizes to improve the food experience. New designs arising out of this work were developed through feedback studies in which progressive prototype iterations were tested with users.

The design process lasted around six months. Design spend was limited because Hatch & Bloom was hired on a consultancy basis, so Holstebro Municipality invested a large number of working hours from relevant staff.

What was the result?

The food service was completely reinvented. Now named The Good Kitchen, it works through more efficient and transparent cooperation between kitchen staff, home carers and the municipality. There are more daily food choices and users can now also order extra meals for guests. Improved menu descriptions give users a clearer sense of how food will taste. (e.g. not just “Liver with gravy, potatoes and vegetables” but “Pan-fried calf’s liver with onions and gravy, potatoes tossed in thyme, and butter-roasted vegetables.”) The new menus take better account of individual preferences, allowing users to choose not just between overall meals, but side-dishes, e.g. potatoes vs. rice. They can also specify portion size and health requirements relating to conditions such as obesity, malnutrition and diabetes.

The focus on the user, far from just being a methodology for a redesign, has been embedded as an active component of the service. Users can now offer feedback and suggestions at any time using a Good Kitchen postcard. These cards are read aloud at staff meetings and put up in the kitchens. All of this comes wrapped in an appealing new brand identity implemented on everything from delivery vans to packaging, menus and staff uniforms.

The redesign of a food service for senior citizens bore unexpected fruit for the municipality that commissioned it: not just more customers and sales of healthy meals, but increased staff pride and job satisfaction and a prestigious design award.

The Good Kitchen won the prestigious Danish Design Award 2008/09 and has been showcased in more than 30 countries around the world. Tangible results include a 22% increase in customers, improved customer satisfaction, 78% increase in sales of healthy dishes, and improved collaboration across institutions involved in the food service.

Holstebro Municipality’s image has had a boost both nationally and internationally and its staff are happier. “We receive a large number of unsolicited applications to the kitchen, because of the widespread rumours concerning the happiness and pride of the kitchen staff. And we have experienced a drop in sickness absence among existing kitchen staff,” says section leader Anne Marie Nielsen of Holstebro Municipality.


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