Meals beyond the bedside: An ethnographic exploration of staffs' perspectives and experiences of communal dining in subacute care

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Communal dining offers multiple benefits for hospital patients, yet dining rooms may be underutilized in practice. This study aimed to understand and explore staffs' perspectives and experiences of communal dining in subacute care, and the impacts on staff mealtime practice. Using qualitative, ethnographic methodology, 94 hours of fieldwork were conducted across two subacute care wards. Participants were staff involved in nutrition care or present on the ward at mealtimes. Ninety-one semistructured and ethnographic interviews were conducted with 59 staff, and 54 episodes of observation captured more than 190 staff. Interviews and field notes were thematically analyzed using an inductive approach. Three themes were identified: (i) benefits to patients; (ii) logistical and practical challenges; and (iii) supportive cultural factors. While staff recognized how communal dining benefited patients, logistical and practical challenges impacted their ability to facilitate it in practice. Healthcare organizations seeking to embed communal dining into the mealtime routine should recognize that clear delineation of staff roles and responsibilities, and cultural change involving normalization, setting expectations, and collective advocacy may be needed to optimize benefits for patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)372-380
Number of pages9
JournalNursing and Health Sciences
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021


  • hospitals
  • meals
  • nursing staff
  • qualitative research
  • subacute care

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