Creating the Whole Dining Experience

CCRC communities in the Westminster Communities of Florida renovate, add flexibility and retrain staff to better serve residents.

Westminster CCRC, renovationORLANDO, Fla.—In the 11 CCRCs in the Westminster Communities of Florida, the foodservice department is undergoing renovations to enhance resident satisfaction.

“Our mantra is we are only as good as the last meal that we served,” said Mark Holmes, creative dining specialist. “That’s how we keep ourselves pushing forward because although lunch may have been great, if the soup isn’t warm at dinner than the whole dinner was bad. We don’t sit back. We go to the residents and ask what’s important to them.”

Likes and dislikes: Residents told Holmes that the things that were important to them included things like colorful staff uniforms, earlier dining times to fit their social activities, and a friendly and polite relationship between the staff and residents. “They want french fries when they want them, but they also want plain steamed vegetables as well,” he added. “We have a lot of people who want meatless options. What really comes out is they want our dining program to fit into their lifestyles, to have flexibility and wellness for those who want that focus. They want to make sure that we are not just feeding them but offering an experience.”

Westminister CCRC, renovationBecause of these conversations, Holmes and the dining services team started making significant changes to the foodservice programs. In order to accommodate many of these changes, renovations were needed.

“We treat each communities based on its culture and its core instead of going in and saying, ‘this is Westminster core and your dining room is going to be the same as everybody else,’” Holmes said. “We sit down with a group of residents and management staff and ask them what they like and don’t like. We don’t just come in and say here’s a cookie-cutter approach.”

Putting together all the pieces: One of the bigger projects that Westminster has done is Bahama Place at Westminster Shores in St. Petersburg. Bahama Place is a new building that was constructed in 2009 to replace a 40-year-old building. In this community the dining room is like a restaurant where chefs are in the front of the house cooking meals to order. The dining room offers full-service and self-service options as well as a display kitchen. “A lot of CCRCs have old steam wells,” Holmes said. “For us, it’s all right out there in the dining room. We’ve introduced induction chafers, warmers and cookers. We have a separate dessert area and we’ve worked with vendors to bring in some high-end items.”

Westminster CCRC, renovationBecause of the equipment and layout changes, Holmes was able to change the menu as well. “We found that people’s version of a gourmet dining experience varied tremendously, and it wasn’t always associated with food. What they really wanted was flexibility. They didn’t want a menu that repeated every 28 days. They wanted to have things cooked to order.”

There is a weekly menu at Bahama Place, but the menu is set up with resident preferences and flexibility in mind. “On the first Monday, the choices are beef Burgundy with egg noodles, roast pork loin with apple cranberry dressing, turkey Brie panini sandwich and a Texas barbecue burger,” Holmes said. “This will repeat for three weeks. Sometimes what happens in a 28-day cycle is that meatloaf is on a Monday of the first week, and you’ve got to wait for 28 more days before you can get meatloaf. Typically in a household you only have about 20 favorites. We take these entrée selections and we run them for about four weeks along with an additional daily chef special that changes every day. What’s being served on Monday this week may not be served at all next week. Then we have some things that are always available like grilled chicken Caesar salad. On Sundays we always do two carved items. This allows us to change our menus to allow for fresh items as they become available.”

Flexibility and choices were components of many of the other renovations as well. At the Crossroads Café, an alternative dining option was implemented. The café offers a combination of a bistro and grab-and-go options. Other communities have an action station, which is five feet of counter space on which something such as a carving
station is set up. Another location has a made-to-order omelet station.

“The dining experience is not just about the food but also the décor and service,” Holmes said. “The point that we’ve gotten to now is a combination of décor, interior design and customer service specific to the customers that we are serving as well as our menus, programs and availability of food.”

Customer satisfaction training: Another component of Westminster’s renovation projects is training. “We have developed a customer service training program pulling from my experience as a culinary trained chef as well as working with older adults. We developed a very specific customer training for older adults for our staff to learn how to serve older adults,” Holmes said. “When you serve three meals a day in a retirement community and people are paying for those meals, we want to make sure that we focus on the relationship because they have to come back there.”

The training focuses on how to serve different types of customers. “If we are waiting on a resident with memory loss and we’ve taken the order for the whole table we teach them to go back and confirm with that resident that they’ve not changed their mind. If we have somebody who is hard of hearing, we train our staff to get down so that people can read lips. If it’s somebody who is sight impaired, we read menus to them or make recommendations. We focus on each resident as an individual. We do that through relationships.”