When families seek a senior living community for their loved one, the quality of the dining experience is often one of the most important factors considered in the final decision. That's good, because studies show that up to 60% of a resident's day is focused on meal times. Residents routinely inquire about the menu, plan a meal outing with other residents or visiting friends/family, spend time getting dressed for dinner, travel to and from the dining room, and visit with friends during and after meals.
This points out a very important fact for senior living management to understand: for seniors, meals are about much more than good food (though that's important too).
Because you don't want life in a senior living community to be a lonely experience, social time at meals is essential in maintaining a senior's health and happiness. This may be particularly true for residents who have lost a spouse and now live alone, or for those who have lost the ability to easily communicate, due perhaps to early dementia, hearing loss or other age-related condition.
In fact, the social aspects of dining are so critical to a senior's overall well-being that CMS's Quality Indicator Survey of skilled nursing homes includes observation of dining rooms to assess resident's health and appearance, quality of interactions and accommodation of dietary needs.
Creating a strong sense of community in the senior living dining room helps residents feel connected and welcomed. The roles of administration and dining servers are key to building community in your senior dining room.
Administration should take a leadership role in enhancing the dining experience by:
- Educating staff on key values and standards and introducing the concept of hospitality to meal service
- Showing up regularly during meals to greet residents by name
- Learning the serving process so they understand what challenges staff face
- Providing as much flexibility as possible for residents so they aren't forced into rigid dining schedules and limited menu options
- Training dining room staff to blend meal service with the hospitality that you'd receive from a good restaurant
- Giving staff a voice in improving mealtime outcomes
- Providing training that breaks down any barriers related to different cultures or age groups
- Offering a dinnertime 'ambassador' service to welcome new residents and introduce them to existing residents
Servers are key
Your servers are on the front lines every day, interacting with residents. In the past their role was often not viewed as particularly important. That has changed in many senior living communities as servers are trained in the principles of dining hospitality.
- Teach staff not to be unintentionally disruptive during meal service, says CMS. Speaking loudly over the heads of residents who are eating can lower the quality of the dining experience, as can passing food over the heads of residents who have begun eating while others have not yet been provided their meals.
- Ensure your staff members are talking to the residents, not at them during meals. They need to interact as if they were serving at a neighborhood restaurant. Servers should always treat residents with dignity and respect and give them the time needed to make meal selections.
- Staff should learn the name of every resident and greet them by name during meal service.
Successful and profitable senior living communities focus on building a strong sense of community and the dining experience is key to this process.
Want to ensure your loved one feels connected and welcomed in a senior living community?
Senior living can be a rewarding and positive experience for the family, and a first-rate dining experience that helps build a sense of community is key to resident happiness. Learn how we've combined world-class care with the best practices in senior living.