In senior living and aging services, dining programs are crucial elements of resident satisfaction, resident engagement, and resident health. In the best situations, dining is central to your occupancy strategy and organizational culture. And dining often represents the second biggest line item in your budget, behind nursing and health care.
This means that there is a lot at stake in getting dining services right.
So, why is maintaining a high-quality and consistent dining program such a struggle? Let’s take a look at some of the common elements of dining programs that combine to satisfy the needs and desires of both your residents and your organization.
Menus & Recipes
Designing great menus and maintaining a catalog of recipes sounds pretty basic. But in senior living, there is nothing basic about it. Recipes must meet the diet and nutrition needs of your residents. You must have a big enough database of recipes to cover the various prescribed diets that your residents with specific conditions or dietary requirements might have. These variations increase as communities provide additional levels of care, including assisted living, skilled nursing, or memory care. And they are subject to various regulations as well.
Your residents’ enjoyment and engagement also rely, in part, on your recipes and menus. Do you have different venues with various themes and levels of dining? You will need completely different sets of recipes for a formal dining room versus a casual gastropub or café setting. And you will need a different set of recipes for retail grab-and-go selections. Do you have enough options to meet the needs of the vegetarians as well as the omnivores in your community? What about vegans? Or individuals who may have any of the common food allergies or intolerances?
But there’s more to it than variety. Recipes are also the key to consistency. Residents want to be confident that their favorite dish will taste the same, regardless of which kitchen staff are working on a particular day. And recipes also help to define and support your brand and market position. Does your New Orleans-based community have a signature crawfish étouffée recipe that sets you apart? A signature Clam Chowder in New England? A carefully guarded secret Southern barbecue sauce?
Communities that struggle to get dining services right often don’t have a large enough database of recipes to meet the expectations of their residents or their dietary needs. The systems and infrastructure aren’t in place to manage recipes and the menus end up being limited and repetitive. The staff isn’t trained to adhere to the recipes, resulting in inconsistent quality. Or your chef doesn’t have the time or the experience to develop new or signature recipes that inspire your residents and support your brand. As a result, many communities continue to rely on ultra-processed, frozen, heat-and-eat entrees and menus recommended by the vendors that sell them.
Another important consideration is the ingredients that are used to prepare the meals. Here too, there is a wide variation in quality, consistency, cost, and nutrition. If you are using the ultra-processed, frozen, heat-and-eat entrees we mentioned above, the list of ingredients on the packaging doesn’t indicate the freshness or the source of the ingredients used. And there are probably a few ingredients there that you don’t recognize or can’t pronounce. It’s unlikely that you would find those ingredients in a recipe if you were to make the same entrée yourself. What do those ingredients say about your brand? What would your residents’ dietitian say about them? Communities that make their own meals, but use canned or frozen fruits, vegetables or meats may have similar questions regarding the freshness and source of the ingredients, and what exposures may have occurred during processing. If your community struggles to get dining services right, the ingredients you use may be part of the problem.
NEXDINE’s Executive Vice President of Brand Experience, Todd Saylor, CDM, CFPP says that communities that use canned and frozen ingredients may gain convenience and lower labor costs, but it comes at a cost. “A community that is trying to do it all themselves may have no choice but to turn to processed ingredients. But food quality generally suffers, culinary artistry is lost, and I have even seen this degrade morale and organizational culture. Think about it. Cooking shows and chef competitions are wildly popular these days, but would you tune in to a program that showed the chefs opening cans of peas or waiting for chicken breasts to defrost? I don’t think that residents would be impressed.”
“What we want communities to know,” added Larry Abrams, NEXDINE’s President and Managing Partner, “is that the small advantage a community gains from using processed ingredients is dwarfed by the advantages that a strategic dining partner like NEXDINE can bring to the community by leveraging our efficiency, scale, expertise and infrastructure. We are committed to using 100% fresh ingredients. We feature seasonal flavors and local and regional sourcing. And we’ve developed options for outdoor or year-round indoor gardens that provide fresh herbs and vegetables that not only enhance freshness, flavor, and nutrition, but also increase resident engagement.”
Of all the struggles we hear about in conversations with senior living leaders, labor and staffing issues currently top the list. It’s a challenging labor market, and there appear to be no signs of easing. Hourly pay hikes are straining budgets — but only when people can actually be found to fill open positions! Vacant positions impact the quality and consistency of your dining program, which has consequences for resident satisfaction, brand reputation, staff morale, and the culture of your community.
Of course, staffing challenges aren’t limited to dining programs. A recent Executive Insights report from the National Investment Center (NIC) showed that 82% of participating organizations reported ongoing staffing shortages. And although these shortages are most acutely felt in the direct care workforce, administrative and support staffing can also impact quality, consistency, and in some cases, safety. A strategic partnership with NEXDINE Hospitality eliminates a range of challenges while offering an equally wide range of benefits, including:
- Eliminating staffing challenges
- Improving the quality and consistency of services
- Controlling costs
- Improving morale and organizational culture
Infrastructure, Innovation & Expertise
Menus, recipes, and qualified staff are all necessary to get dining services right. But that’s not all. In addition to great food and hospitality, an exceptional dining program requires:
- Infrastructure to manage data, integration and reporting, and optimize personalization and convenience
- Scale and leverage to manage costs
- Expert diet, nutrition, culinary, retail, operations, and management teams with the support and collaborative opportunities to drive innovation
- Expertise in a wide range of specialties from kitchen design, restaurant design, retail marketing, safety and hygiene, finance and capital, training and certification, IT and systems, diet and nutrition, culinary expertise, food science, logistics, and much more.
Is it reasonable to think you can build all of that to support the dining program of a single community or a small system? Probably not. But that’s a snapshot of all the support and benefits that NEXDINE Hospitality has to offer, and how we overcome the challenges that you face every day in trying to get dining services right.
Regardless of whether you represent a single community of a few hundred residents, or multiple communities serving thousands of residents, NEXDINE Hospitality can customize a solution that’s right for you.
“We are uniquely positioned to serve senior living communities nationwide, and lead the market with our people-centric and technology-driven strategies,” says David Lanci, NEXDINE’s Founder, Chairman, and CEO. Lanci is the architect of NEXDINE’s unique strategy, focusing on people and cultural alignment to deliver dining programs that seamlessly and transparently meet the needs and support the success of each community. “Our people are our greatest priority. Only they can make our clients love us. I know by taking care of them, they will take care of our customers.”
If you have struggled to get dining services right, you have options. The first step is simply to schedule an introductory call or meeting with a member of our team. Learn more about our fully customizable suite of programs and services.
For more information, Contact NEXDINE Today. (978) 674-8464.