Dining Archives – Varsity Branding

Tag: Dining

Guest post by Andrew Leech, Vice President, Operations Management Services, Greystone Communities

Today Andrew Leech is expanding on some of the ideas he shared in his recent presentation at The Greystone Event 2021, “The Art of the Pivot: Addressing Operational Challenges.”

With all the tragedy that has come with the pandemic, we’ve learned a couple of things. In a 24/7 operation, we never have the opportunity to retool and reopen and reboot. COVID-19 has been awful and terrible for our residents and industry, but one of the positives coming out the other side is the lessons we’ve learned. It would be a real shame to go back to the old normal.

Some of the lessons communities have learned:

  • Residents can adopt and use technology far faster than we gave them credit for.
  • Society is more open to doing things a little differently now than it did a year-and-a-half ago, so why waste this opportunity to improve and secure the future of our communities?
  • In every facet of our operations, now is the time to change.

One caveat: There is a strong regulatory component in what we do, which means some things are not going to change as fast as we’d like them to. Guidelines and restrictions are going to impact our changes.

Here are some areas that I feel communities should be looking at:

Recruiting

We’ve had hiring challenges in health care for many, many years. There has been a nursing shortage and not enough nurses to replace those that left. Now the challenges are even greater, with other industries raising their wages during COVID-19. How are we going to compete for talent with other sectors? How can we help lower costs to help pay for talent? We’ve often pitched how strong our operations were, saying things like: “You would be lucky to come and work for such a fine organization that treats employees well.” In this market, rather than say, “You’d be fortunate to work for us,” it’s a natural shift to say, “We would really love the opportunity to have you be a part of our team.”

We need to change our approach to how we’re recruiting talent in a market this tight. We spend an awful lot of time and money to attract residents and get them through the sales process. We need to start to take some of those funds and have the same vested interest in appealing to employees. Some specific tactics communities can implement:

  • Pay for time spent during the screening process
  • Make sure your community has a director level position for HR
  • Partner with a Professional Employer Organization (PEO)
  • Text candidates within five minutes of their application hitting the portal (the younger generation doesn’t read emails)
  • Offer seven days on and seven days off in skilled nursing care, or four days of 10-hour shifts — think creatively about how to offer work/life balance.

Retention

We have teams that have been through hell and back during the last 18 months to two years. We need to show them that they’re appreciated for the sacrifices they’ve made. And we also have to be realistic about our expectations for retention: A year for a certified nurse’s aide or a server is actually quite good.

Ideas for retention will vary in every single market. Offering employee meals is a great start — but we can’t just stop there. Here are some other options, many of which are also strong recruitment tools:

  • Retention bonuses. We believe that a better approach to bonuses is to space them out and incentivize even further someone’s desire to stay with the company. Part of the bonuses may come at three months, six months, nine months, a year.
  • Day care. Some communities are looking at spaces on their properties for day care and figuring how to license and run a center. We’re in the research stages, and I do have leaders of communities telling me that day care would make a huge impact. Having day care on-site simplifies people’s lives. Imagine being able to drop your child right at your workplace and go into your job each day.
  • Flexible schedules. Gone are the days that if an employee can’t work weekends, they can’t be a part of your team. Now it can be mutually beneficial to be flexible to meet the needs of each individual. We can give team members the life balance that they’re looking for, and they can provide excellent experiences to the residents.
  • Attractive employee lounges and locker rooms. We need to evaluate employee areas and solicit team feedback to determine if they are welcoming.
  • Fee structure reviews and involvement of residents. COVID-19 strengthened that desire to help, because folks have very strong ties to members of the staff and their teams. The pandemic made us all re-evaluate what’s important. The residents have realized that their communities are not the same without these amazing team members who are working hard and sacrificing day in and day out. We had actually proposed a rate increase at one of our communities, and one of the members of the resident council came to the director and asked whether that number was going to be sufficient to pay their staff a living wage. He was invested in making sure the staff were well taken care of.

Infection Control

Because of the extra precautions communities have taken during COVID-19, we’ve had tremendous success in keeping the flu at bay this past year. Through tools like visitation restrictions, PPE and social distancing, we’ve shown we can control infections very, very effectively. That’s going to be the expectation moving forward. The challenge is, how do we eliminate the spread of infection, while still having communities that are more open with visitors?

Finding Efficiencies

Here’s an example of how we need to work more efficiently: If you have a housekeeper going to three different floors in a main building, as well as villas and cottages and garden homes, are you sacrificing a lot of time and energy in having that person traveling from place to place? This is now an opportunity to reboot services like housekeeping. Let’s break out the community in a way that is far more efficient for travel time. We’re looking for little opportunities to do things smarter.

Dining Innovations

Before COVID-19, dining in was not heavily utilized — and was not experientially the best. What we did learn during the pandemic was that there’s a way to do it well and inexpensively. We strongly believe, moving forward, that there is going to be demand for in-room dining to augment regular dining. We see this through the success of services like Grubhub, Door Dash and Uber Eats. Customers are looking to have great dining experiences with gourmet food in the comfort of their own homes — and seniors are going to be no different.

Stay Virtual

What we’ve learned from our residents’ eager adoption of technology is that virtual programs will always be in demand. Make sure your community keeps up by continuing to offer them and learning to do them better.

These are just small examples of how the need to change runs throughout the entire operation. It could be that in five to 10 years, our community buses will be driving themselves. Something along those lines is coming, so we’d better be ready.

People are more receptive to new ideas than they have been in years, so let’s take advantage of that opportunity. We don’t want to lose the chance to change and go back to doing things the way we’ve done for years and years and years. However, we also don’t want people to run to their communities with all these ideas and try to cram them all in at once. That’s not going to be successful for them. Each market may have different demands.

Fast and Simple Changes

Our focus is on providing small takeaways that everyone can do something with. For example, when was the last time you did a wage analysis in your market? If it’s a year old, the analysis is highly out of date. If it’s not done in the last 90 days, you can’t trust it.

Those are quick, easy things you can do: reviewing fees, involving residents, reassessing culture, looking for opportunities to be more efficient — those are actions that would be advantageous to any operation. It’s important to do the work to figure out what’s going to be most impactful to your team and operations. Now is the time to start to ask these questions and look into these issues.

A Short Window of Opportunity

You have a window of time to make these changes. You have receptive residents, prospective residents and staff. The trick is, you can’t sit on your hands and not do anything or the window will close. Eventually people will wipe these circumstances from their memories and we’ll continue on like we did before.

Our call to action is:Please don’t do nothing.” If you do nothing, you’re going to be left behind. You can’t waste this opportunity, and if you do waste it, it will have longstanding effects on the financial health and stability of your community for years to come.

Seeing the Glass Half Full

I’d like to end this on an optimistic note. Should we feel optimistic or pessimistic about the future, knowing all that has happened? I choose to look at this through a positive lens. We have had some teams that went through some extremely difficult, once-in-a-lifetime challenges, and the people who have stuck around have built more stamina and become more capable, more resilient and more optimistic. We now have these folks on our team who have managed through a huge crisis, and they will be able to draw on these experiences should, and when, the next crisis comes along. This is an industry that has been challenged by many, many things, from 9/11 to the Great Recession and now COVID-19. There are always going to be challenges. We need to take away what we excelled in and what we learned during this crisis to help our operations get stronger and more secure in the future. We believe that the future is bright.

Today I’m talking to Joe Gorman, Division President East at Morrison Living. Morrison Living provides culinary, design, wellness and environmental services to 450 clients in 41 states, including some of the most prominent senior living communities in the United States.

How are you keeping things safe at the communities you partner with?

At Continuing Care Retirement Communities, we have an in-depth checklist to make sure that associates are safe; that the environment is clean, sanitized and effective; and that we’re thinking through all the elements so that, when communities are getting ready to restart and reopen, they’re in the best possible situation.

We’re doing some unique things—working with different types of communities that are having challenges. They’re looking for the expertise, help and compassion we can provide.

If they need to make design changes, they can turn to our subject-matter experts. We can also help them as they make labor changes so that they can be both efficient and sensitive to what residents need.

Communities may have had two dining services a day. Now, to keep people socially distanced, they have four or five services, as well as a dining room functioning at 25 to 50 percent capacity. They need resources and tools to manage these challenges. We have a robust restart program that addresses these areas, so no one feels alone.

We’re also getting calls from clients asking, from an environmental perspective, what should we be doing? What about disinfectants? We’re enhancing our environmental teams and restructuring to make sure that we can fulfill the needs of all these communities in various geographic areas.

How does your parent company, Compass Group, help you support your communities?

Compass Group, a best-in-class organization, provides food and support services to millions of people across the globe. They’ve published a guide to helps their 25 business sectors deal with the COVID-19 environment. Called “Stay Safe, Eat Well,” the guide is comprehensive, because it has to address the COVID-19 issue in every sector. It gives us resources, technology, design and wonderful tools that can cross over every sector. One of my favorites is ChefNet, a network of local and celebrity chefs who make virtual appearances at communities. They teach kitchens to lift residents’ spirits and show them how to make exciting new dishes.

How are you restarting and reopening communities?

We have a robust platform: ReSTART + ReNEW. In our industry, as the virus changes, reopening practices have to match the needs of different states and counties, at different times. Our plans have to be flexible in addressing the ever-changing environment. When COVID-19 started, we collaborated with our best subject-matter experts in all categories. We immediately looked at how to handle this situation. Now, we have an in-depth formula that we follow depending on the level of care required.

We’ve reopened multiple communities in the middle of this pandemic. One innovation is at The Templeton of Cary, a brand-new CCRC, where residents are moving in right now. We’re introducing a robot that is helping staff by clearing plates, so employees aren’t handling multiple plates, and they can spend more quality time interacting with residents. Learn more about Penny,  the self-driving robot.

What kinds of design changes are you making?

We have a robust team of culinary innovators and designers. They work with design companies and architects to enact multiple changes. As self-service, with beverages and salad, goes away, for social distancing reasons, we’re coming up with different innovations and platforms to solve those problems. Morrison Living’s team is critical right now. People have to make major decisions in a very short window of time.

You think about the pressure that communities are under right now—what they’ve gone through is unprecedented, unbelievable. We want to give them tools and resources so that they don’t have to feel that they are alone, and that they are getting the help they need.

I started my conversation with Joe Gorman, Division President East at Morrison Living, thinking we would talk about the innovative culinary, wellness, design and environmental initiatives his company is implementing to support its 450 senior living clients across the country during this crisis. I came away realizing that simple human compassion is at the heart of the help Morrison is providing to its communities.

Derek: What are some ways you’re boosting morale at your communities?

Joe: When COVID-19 first began to spike, it was a difficult time for us emotionally, because we partner with a lot of large skilled nursing communities in New York City. What was happening there was devastating. It was a lot of conversations and constantly following up and working with team members. There was so much happening in the industry that was really challenging. We just wanted to know, “How can we help?”

We returned to what we’ve always done here at Morrison Living: We use food to help heal emotionally. My mother used to always say: “Sweetness takes the bitterness away.” I couldn’t agree more. We jumped in and quickly used some of our great programs to boost morale among residents and staff. Here are a few examples:

  • Special food themes. We created special ice cream dishes, mocktails and other treats for special days, and handed them out to people. We had an onslaught of great ideas we used, not just to help residents, but to boost employee morale as well.
  • Jack and Olive: One innovation we were able to quickly deploy was the Jack and Olive “handcrafted convenience” destination concept. We provided this to the heroes who have been working nonstop through COVID-19. This is an on-the-go concept featuring healthy options, artisan sandwiches and fun salads that are easy for staff to engage with.
  • Teaching Kitchen@Home. In this program, our celebrity chefs do live teaching classes in a kitchen, and we stream the classes to residents in their residences. We also have creative folks delivering the ingredients to some of our residents so that they can prepare the dishes as they follow along with the live stream.
  • New menus for meal delivery: As community dining rooms shut down during COVID-19, culinarians and corporate chefs had to focus on creating meals you could deliver to residents’ apartments. We helped them think through that process so they could deal with other emotional challenges they were facing.

How can we stay motivated during COVID-19?

This situation is something you never, ever thought you would experience in a lifetime. It just takes an emotional toll. You’ve got to stay motivated and stay cognizant of what’s happening. You’ve got to tap into empathy and a lot of other emotions that you didn’t have to use at this capacity before. It’s a new dynamic; it’s a new way to lead; it’s a new way to learn. So, it’s been very humbling to see the dedication of people in this industry. It’s just overwhelming to experience that. There are no words that can really describe it.

I think one of the best things we did is have open dialogue with team members to give them opportunities to talk about what they were going through. Early on, we had national calls with all our people every week. We not only did that, because we wanted to connect with our teams, but we wanted to make sure that they were okay. One example is Chef Jet, one of our celebrity chefs. He helped by sending out a video shout-out to our New York people.

You’re acknowledging what people are going through, listening to their challenges. Personal phone calls and connections go a long way.

How can we show empathy when we’re wearing masks?

All our associates understand that you’re supposed to greet people with a smile; you can make a difference in someone’s day by being the best part of their day. But physically, since we’re wearing masks, things have changed. That’s why we put together “compassion training”: to get the point across that, when you smile, even if you have a mask on, people can see your smile in your eyes. Whether it’s an associate or a resident or a client you’re smiling back at—these little things make a huge difference.

Can you talk about the power of food to heal during COVID-19?

Food has always been a passion of mine. As a child, I cooked with my aunt and my grandmother. I always found that people connected through food. Early on, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I started in the sexy, exciting sector of hospitality: restaurants and hotels. But pretty early in my career, I found the senior market. I just fell in love with this environment and have been in it ever since.

The food philosophy that we instill in the people we work with, whatever the cuisine, is that tastes and smells evoke memories. When I taste or smell a dish, I remember when my grandmother made that special recipe, or I learned that certain technique. Our residents experience the same thing, so when they see or taste or smell our food, we’ve created an emotional connection. We have the opportunity to share love through food. That connection is even more important during these challenging times.

Read more about Morrison Living, and what it’s doing to support communities during COVID-19, in an upcoming blog.

 

We’re willing to bet that, if you were to ask the residents of most retirement communities about their biggest disappointment at their community, it would probably boil down to one of two things: the communication or the food. Aging services providers have been working to get better at both of these challenges, but food continues to be a perennial gripe for residents. Interestingly, this challenge isn’t just being felt in the senior living space. Recognizing that Baby Boomers are in control of an incredible amount of expendable income, all kinds of foodservice providers are pivoting their models to appeal to America’s wealthiest generation.

This has caused some restaurant owners to start thinking like aging services groups by changing their culture and advertising to become more appealing to the aging Boomer set. They’ve quickly learned that “senior” discounts and references to age are turnoffs. Instead, they’ve caught on to key Boomer trends, such as healthy menu options, new takes on old favorites and interactive experiences, such as cooking classes and wine pairing dinners. In a recent article in Restaurant Business Magazine, it was reported that 44 percent of Boomers prefer a restaurant with a mix of both familiar and new foods. The article goes on to suggest pairing familiar proteins with more adventurous side dishes to create a happy medium.

Yet, for all of the adventurousness that some Boomers may be embracing, there is still one core belief of Boomer diners: the need for value. Sixty-three percent of Boomers say it is an important factor, with 55 percent saying that low prices are key. In the real world, this often manifests as the repeat customer with a consistent order. If Jack knows that he likes a specific dish, and he feels it is a good value for the price, he may settle into a rhythm of ordering it over and over again. Sure, the repeat business is great, but Jack isn’t likely to try anything new on the menu. This puts operators in a bind — do you change the menu up to attract new customers, or do you keep it the same to ensure repeat business? This usually boils down to a personal choice for the operators.

Within the senior living space, we see similar challenges as these. Some residents desire more variety in the meals offered, while others are unhappy that their favorite menu item has been taken out of rotation. Marketers that are looking to attract younger residents want to show off innovative, gourmet dining techniques; meanwhile, older residents just want their comfort food favorites on the menu. Culinary service employees in senior living find themselves stuck between this rock and a hard place, trying to create menus that are appealing to everyone, while still being innovative and flavorful — all within budget considerations. It’s a different challenge than most restauranteurs usually face!

In recognition of this challenge, a new association was recently formed. The Senior Dining Association (SDA) is the first organization focused specifically on serving older adults, both at public venues and in residential communities. Of course, every good association needs a conference and expo, so the SDA will be hosting its first-ever such event, March 17 to 20, in Charlotte, North Carolina. The event purports to bring together experts in senior dining and culinary experiences, with workshops, demonstrations, product innovations and, of course, lots of free samples!

Food is integral to daily life for residents of aging services providers. Foodservice teams are given a double challenge of not only keeping up with the trends of food in society, but also finding a way to adapt those trends to their residents and communities. At Varsity, we’re excited to see how the greater community is taking notice of the purchasing power of Boomers. In that same vein, we’re also looking forward to seeing what kind of impact a new professional organization will have on our space.

Either way, we know there will be tasty results!

Sources

https://www.masslive.com/entertainment/index.ssf/2018/11/restaurants_seek_to_appeal_to.html

https://pos.toasttab.com/blog/baby-boomers

https://seniordining.wildapricot.org/Conference