To Your Health
Ongoing Look at the Business of Healthcare Foodservice
In our last issue of Restaurant Inc, we explored how hospitals have changed it up at the front tray line, meeting the needs of a patient population who demand fine dining along with fine medical care. This time, we look at how senior living facilities are undergoing an equally dramatic shift, driven by residents who’ve enjoyed a lifetime of memorable dining, and fully expect that experience to continue. Freshly prepared meals and extraordinary service can make the difference between a facility that thrives, with soaring resident satisfaction scores, or those that sputter, faced with vacant rooms even in a time when 10,000 American Boomers turn 65 each day. The stats fully back up how vital those three squares a day are to the elderly: a full 90 percent of current senior living residents and their families ranked foodservice as very or somewhat important when choosing a long-term care facility.*
*Nutrition and Foodservice Education Foundation survey, 2013
~ Restaurant Inc Editorial Staff
To say that dining options at senior living facilities are undergoing a complete 180 is hardly an understatement. By the time Baby Boomers arrive in full force over the next decade, it will not resemble their grandmother’s nursing home, or their mother’s assisted living facility. The model that’s gaining steam as the warmest, most natural and compassionate way to live if you can’t "age in place" is the neighborhood concept. Already in 40 percent of senior facilities, “this is where the trend is going,” states Joyce Gilbert, president and CEO, Association of Nutrition & Foodservice Professionals (ANFP). As far removed from institutional living as possible, the neighborhood model eschews centralized kitchens, common dining areas, limited offerings and set dining times for friendlier, localized kitchens and eating areas, a wider variety of choices and flex dining.
Trending simultaneously is the finer dining movement, wrapped around all of today’s buzz words — organic, locally sourced, healthier, fresher. Chefs with roots deep in the hospitality world have started to invade formerly staid kitchens, stirring up residents’ appetites and erasing without a trace the image of mystery meat, instant mashed potatoes, canned peas and a square of jello for dinner. Think rack of lamb, twice baked potatoes, cauliflower au gratin and homemade ice cream, and you’ll be a lot closer to tomorrow’s menu, already in play at some of today’s more upscale residences. Paradigm shift? Most industry professionals would agree it’s coming and readily embrace the change, but shrinking reimbursements are also a reality, a conundrum immediately recognized by Gilbert.
“When I took the helm of ANFP, I wanted to educate not just our own members, but the industry, and implement best practices for increased health quality and resident satisfaction ... the bigger problem is doing all this and lowering food costs,” she shares. Gilbert started by collecting data on trends that would define the industry going forward and followed up by identifying innovators who had implemented many of these concepts at their facilities. In addition to the neighborhood model, there were grab-and-go meals, healthy snacks, choice, wellness programs, action stations, soup bar, and breakfast upon rising.
Her research uncovered a crucial point: in the neighborhood model, increased resident satisfaction went hand-in-hand with controlled costs. “What we found was a small initial bump in food costs which leveled off and even decreased as resident preferences became known and less plate waste resulted. Labor costs also went down, as staffs were able to produce more meals in less time as the model settled into place, and cross training was accomplished quickly.”
Most important: weight loss incidence was decreased by 60 percent, an ongoing concern at senior living facilities, and resident satisfaction scores received a significant boost in all cases, some as much as 10 percent. The combination of fresh, unique menu items, available right in the resident’s unit and arriving piping hot, made a huge, favorable impression. Cue the revolution.
For trained chefs like Derrick Stevens, working with the "captive audience" at Trinity Senior Living represents a welcome change from traditional foodservice. “In restaurants, you never have the chance to make it right with dissatisfied customers, but here we have the opportunity to change it and make them happy.”
If you don’t, you’ll hear about it the next day, and the day after that ...