Refrigerated drawers in a restaurant-sized kitchen are stocked with chicken breasts, steaks, hamburger patties, mixed vegetables and all the fixings for quesadillas.
As Hector Ornels organizes kitchen supplies, a tag slips out of an automated machine.
"It's the first lunch request," he says.
He grabs a seasoned chicken breast out of one of the drawers and places it on the grill. As he is doing this, five more tags spill out of the machine.
"They are starting to come in," he says as he looks at the next tag and adds a hamburger patty to the grill.
Ornels is one of the chefs at Lodi Memorial Hospital who cooks room service meals, a new feature that changed traditional food tray meals into restaurant-style meals.
The room service, which began Oct. 4, was created for patients and their visitors. It was added to improve the patients' hospital experience, help boost recovery time and eliminate waste, said Carol Farron, spokeswoman for the hospital.
Food choices in the past were very limited, and the hospital staff wanted to offer patients more items that would be of interest to them, she said.
"We wanted to offer the opportunity to select what you want, when you want it," she said. "Food is important to people here, whether it's a patient or staff. Everyone can relate to food."
As Antonio Pinillos lays in his hospital bed, he talks animatedly about his breakfast of French toast, country potatoes, bacon and fresh fruit. The 34-year-old Morada resident ordered his meal before his CT scan at 8 a.m. His food was ready by the time he got back to his room.
His favorite was the country potatoes, he said. He also enjoyed how fresh the fruit was.
"It was really nice and a good portion, too," he said. "It feels good to have something a little more prepared."
From the hours of 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., hospital patients can order from a menu that includes breakfast, lunch and dinner. For a $6 fee, patients' visitors can also order meals, although it is complimentary for visitors in pediatrics, said Farron.
Patients can order anything from cereal and muffins to omelets for breakfast. The lunch and dinner menus offer patients options ranging from salads and sandwiches to pasta, tri-tip or salmon.
Hospital personnel in the call center take the orders by phone and enter them onto a touch-screen monitor. Once orders are complete, the system generates prep tickets to the printers in tray assembly areas. Chefs pull tickets and line them up as in restaurant fashion.
Within 45 minutes, meals are delivered to patients by room service ambassadors, who are dressed to appear like waiters, said Farron.
Along with the regular menu, the hospital offers 12 other menus tailored to patients' dietary needs. Some of these include pureed meals, liquid diets, gluten-free, low fiber, carbohydrate-controlled and heart-healthy. There is also a children's menu.
"Some of the patients are very sick. Some just had babies and want to eat well. There is something for everyone here," said Farron.
Although the dietary meal options were always available, the staff worked with dietitians and a food service consultant to come up with several other specialized menus, said Becky Olivera, director of nutrition and food services of the hospital. Now, even pureed diets can be ordered off of the menus.
"They get a lot more choices in the modified diets than they used to," she said.
The original kitchen was built in 1952 and needed some updating, said Farron. In 2007, the hospital received $150 million in bond money to cover the costs of upgrading the buildings to meet the state's seismic-standard requirements, she said. There was also a capital campaign conducted by the Lodi Memorial Hospital Foundation, which raised $20 million for the project. Along with the new hospital wing, a portion of the money was used to cover the costs of upgrading the kitchen and dining room.
"It was part of the bond money we got, and because we have requirements, we had to bring it up to standard," she said.
In the updates, more refrigeration space was added to accommodate ordering in larger quantities, allowing service for a couple hundred patients a day, said Farron. A blast chiller was added that freezes food in six minutes. A newer feature that was added is a baker's oven, which enables the staff to bake their own bread.
These features help the hospital keep costs down and reduce waste, Farron said.
With eyes lit up and a smile on his face, Pinillos says he has ordered tri-tip, mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables for lunch.
"I told her to hurry up," he says with a laugh. He enjoys that it's like getting a home-cooked meal and marvels how the meals are served on real plates with real silverware.
Before Pinillos' lunch has arrived, he begins to talk about dinner. After saying he's undecided between several items, he's told he can do half-orders.
"Oh, what's the extension?" he says.