Why Your Dining Service Problems May Not Be Dining Service Problems


As Executive Directors and Administrators of Senior Care facilities, we know how important dining service is to resident satisfaction.  Dining is more than eating; it is also an important time for socialization with friends.

Resident satisfaction with dining services can make or break a community.  If residents do not perceive their dining experience to be a satisfactory one over all, they will tell everyone they know, call the state licensing agency, and generally spread the word around the community, pulling as many other residents as possible into their negative mindset about dining.

After serving residents in more than 20 communities over the last 15 years, I have learned that complaints about dining frequently aren’t really about dining.  If I have complaints about dining, the first thing I study is the activity program.

If residents have an activity program that meets their needs in a holistic manner, their general satisfaction will be higher.  If they have positive things to focus on, they are less likely to be drawn into a negative mindset about many things, including dining.

A holistic activity program addresses all areas of the human experience:  spiritual, emotional, psychological, physical, intellectual, and vocational.  Think about the last time your own life was out of balance in your holistic wellness; what was your mindset?  Was your attitude as positive as it could be?

Next time you are having dining complaints, rather than take a look in the kitchen, take a long look at your activity program.  Take a hard look at how many times you offer bingo versus activities that meet residents’ other needs.  You may find your dining service issues can be resolved where you least expected it.

Want to Take Your Senior Housing Product to the Next Level?

As Executive Directors and Administrators, we work diligently to provide our customers with the best services and products.  We analyze what our competitors are doing and what the latest trends are in the industry.  But, if you really want to take your independent living, assisted living, or skilled nursing program to the next level, there is one thing you need to do:  move in.

Over the last two years, it has been my privilege to share the home of residents in more than ten independent and assisted living communities.  That experience has helped me understand the reality of what it is like to be a resident–dependent on staff for food, housekeeping, maintenance, safety, and security.  What I have learned most of all is how inconsistent we are in our industry in providing services to our customers.

I challenge you to move in to your community for one week.  Tell your staff that you have a respite moving in and to get a room or apartment set up.  Then arrive with your suitcase containing your clothes and personal care items, just like a real respite resident would do.

As you live in your respite apartment, ask yourself if you really have everything that makes you feel comfortable.  I encourage you to keep a diary and record your experience.  Common missing items in my experience include an iron and ironing board, alarm clock, paper or kitchen towels, and enough toilet paper to last through the week.

Next, use all your senses to truly experience your community.  Yes, we all are aware of “managing by walking around,” but it is different to truly experience the sound of the med cart rolling out of the elevator at 5 am when you are asleep!

Make sure you order room trays for your meals, instead of eating in the dining room.  Not only do you want to experience the temperature of the food when it arrives, but you also want to see the delivery process and accuracy of the order.  I have frequently received a delicious meal without condiments or utensils!

You will also want to use your laundry rooms, not only to experience the quality of the facilities, but also the noise and odor level, from a resident’s perspective.  And don’t forget to stroll the grounds and sit outside at night to help you assess lighting and noise levels from the resident’s perspective.

Once your week is over, review your diary.  Make a list of those things that were done well and those things that need some improvement, and then make sure you share both with your staff.  You might even want to offer your staff the chance to have the experience of living in the community, too.

Good luck with your adventure.  I am confident you will find one or two things that will help you take your community to the next level!