How to Increase Resident Satisfaction in Dining

a female server poses for a smile next to a seated smiling elderly woman in a congregate assisted living dining setting

What is your favorite food and what memories does it conjure? Do you have a favorite way to eat your eggs - or do you even like eggs?

Those who are fortunate enough have a large degree of control over what they put on their plate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Transitioning from a state of independence to a state of dependence, where one is counting on someone else to provide food, can be stressful. Crandall’s VP of Menu Services and Technology, Nancy Mitchell, has interacted with a wide variety of community dining program representatives over the years. She concludes that, “Food is the last area of ‘independence’ people have or have a say in. Everyone has an opinion, and it should be heard.” Providers have an amazing opportunity to facilitate development of person-centered dining experiences for their residents which can become a highlight of their day, every day!

In this post, we explore how a collaborative approach to menu development can increase resident satisfaction.

Personalize menu options.
Provide a customized dining experience to keep residents interested in and excited about mealtime.
  • Personalize the menu to your community residents to the greatest degree possible by tailoring meals to their various religious, ethnic, and cultural preferences. Provide this variety while also ensuring the menu is meeting their dietary needs. Discover what residents do and do not like and make sure plating is respectful of those likes and dislikes.

  • An effective way to gather this information is to develop a routine quality assurance practice which measures resident’s satisfaction level with meals. Survey approximately 25% of your community residents on a quarterly basis. Compile the results of the survey into a summary which you can reference and then make menu alterations or changes where appropriate.

food being plated in a restaurant kitchen

Community input ideas. In 4 Effective Ways to Get Resident Feedback by the Senior Dining Association, they provide real-world examples of what some dietary departments are currently doing to collect resident feedback on menus:
  • Leisure Living Management uses comment cards to gather data from their residents. They also have a 5-question survey which is distributed at random times during meal service. (Visit the article link to see an example.)
  • At Acts Retirement-Life Communities they’ve implemented “Concierge” phone calls, which are conducted by a staff member and involves data collection by speaking directly with selected residents by phone
  • Random check-ins after deliveries” are conducted at Givens Estates in Asheville, NC. This entails “randomly calling 12 residents after each meal, seeking feedback on the quality of food, if meal was delivered on time, and any other feedback they want to verbalize.”
a seated assisted living resident speaks on her mobile phone in her bedroom

Resident Food Councils and their benefits. Outside of the aforementioned survey ideas, you may consider suggesting the implementation of a Resident Food Council if there isn’t one already. This is a group created from those who live within the community who asks about and then documents the following on behalf of residents:
  • Food likes and dislikes.
  • Takes food complaints and suggestions
  • Makes suggestions to the dietitian and dietary department.
  • Plans special meals.

The dietary department can use this committee to present new foods being introduced to the menu, have a tasting, etc.

An additional benefit to having this committee is that having documentation of specific resident group requests provides survey citation protection. For example, meal items are not to be repeated on a menu any earlier than three weeks otherwise a surveyor can issue a citation for repetition on the menu. If the community has decided that they want Taco Tuesday every week, and the Resident Food Council has documented this, then a surveyor cannot cite the community for repetition on the menu. If questioned, dietary will need to provide the written committee minutes reflecting this decision.

a diverse group of happy senior couples share a plated snack and drinks in a living room setting

Example of resident-centered menu development. To reinforce these resident-centered approaches to menu development, in the article, Simple Steps to Creating a Fun and Healthy Nutrition Program, Executive Director, Paula Moore, CDAL from Morningside of Fayetteville, Five Star Senior Living, explores effective ways they involve residents in their menu development:
“Resident participation is a key to success. At Morningside, we keep our residents excited about dining by involving them. We incorporate resident recipes into our menus, have group cooking activities, and hold regular food committee meetings so residents are part of the menu planning process.” To improve the daily dining experience, they have increased resident satisfaction with meals by “eliminating institutional type meal planning, offering restaurant style dining with a variety of menu choices, using fresh produce, featuring regional cuisine, and learning [their] residents’ preferences. Creating a fun dining atmosphere through chef demonstrations, themed dinners, parties, and events, makes dining the highlight of the day.”
 an elderly couple takes a cooking class

Menu software features to be on the lookout for. With the right systems and practices in place, support the implementation process with comprehensive menu software which allows you to keep pace with and consistently provide meals meeting the expectations and nutritional requirements of your community residents.

A sound Senior Living menu software system will provide or allow for:

  • Changes on the menu worksheet, which then instantly changes all reports and program screens related to that change. This effectually prevents errors and saves time because staff will not have to make changes to individual reports. This will also free up time for the chef to focus on providing delicious meals!
  • Personalization to a resident’s dietary needs, likes/dislikes, religious, ethnic, and cultural preferences.
  • Support of varying dining styles including restaurant-style dining with descriptions and select menu options.
senior living congregate dining setting
  • Ability to pull the nutritional analysis and healthy eating pattern for the menu served with the option to print a nutrition report for residents to reference.
  • A report which assists in teaching and keeping the rhythm of the kitchen. For example, Crandall has a Pull and Prep report which identifies for today what needs to be prepped for one day ahead and freezer pulled for three days ahead to thaw properly.
  • A resident card option which identifies allergies, intolerances/dislikes, and meal/beverage preferences.
a relaxed, happy elderly couple pose smiling while seated at an outdoor table

In conclusion, you can accomplish your goal of resident satisfaction in dining by:

  • Conducting quarterly resident satisfaction surveys.
  • Tailoring menu offerings to the survey outcomes.
  • Implement a Resident Food Council to personalize the menu on a deeper level.
  • Reinforcing your efforts with comprehensive menu software which simplifies the process of aligning menus to the preferences of your community!

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