Hospitality on Display

Benedictine Health System's initiative focuses on resident satisfaction.

By Becky Schilling, Editor

St. Brigid's at Hi-Park uses special events to market its advancements in culinary to the community.

DULUTH, Minn.—A new customer service initiative is underway at the 40-facility, 10,000-resident Benedictine Health System. The long-term care system is focusing on four areas—selection, service, surroundings and quality production—for its Performance Excellence in Culinary Customer Satisfaction initiative.

According to Rich Daehn, food and nutrition consultant for the system, the first part of the initiative—selection—focuses on the menu and offering variety. Daehn says staff are making sure there are adequate dining options at each meal. He says the residents should expect to see three to four appetizers, two to three entrées, one to two vegetable choices and three dessert selections at the main meals. The department also is moving away from the traditional three-meal setup in the dining rooms. Elements such as display cooking and breakfast and snack carts are now being used more frequently in the facilities. Daehn says facilities are making sure to create menu options that span a number of generations and not just the Silent Generation that makes up their main clientele.

Resident choice dining: For example, at St. Brigid’s at Hi-Park, in Red Wing, Minn., residents are now served two main meals and three snacks. The two main meals—brunch and supper—are served in the dining room at 11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., respectively. A continental breakfast cart goes room to room between 7 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. Most residents eat in their rooms, but residents may eat in the dining room if they wish. The second snack is passed out between 1 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. This snack is a dessert or fruit. The last snack cart makes its rounds at 6:30 p.m. with items that are high in protein like cottage cheese, a sandwich or a soft pretzel with dip. The facility changed to this dining service in April 2010. Previ-
ously three meals were served in the dining room.

Erin DeLain, director of culinary services, R.D., L.D., says this resident choice dining system gives the residents, whose average age is getting younger, more variety. “Our clientele is changing,” DeLain says. “We have younger people who are coming in. We have a big group of baby boomers who will be coming in a little while, although we already have a few trickling in. Because of their way of living, we want them to have more choices. We want them to be able to decide if they want to get dressed in the morning for breakfast or not. It revolves around giving the residents more choice.”

Another program designed to give residents variety and socializing activities is the weekly happy hour where alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and upscale snacks are served. Happy hour takes the place of the afternoon snack rotation.

Twice a month, display cooking is done before brunch. Items like Belgian waffles, and mimosas are prepared in front of the residents and samples are passed out. 

Service: The initiative’s second component is service. Daehn says training is the important factor, so the waiters receive specialized training to learn how to deal with dissatisfaction and the best way to serve older generations. Making sure waiters dress  the part is also addressed at the facilities.

Environment: Getting away from the “nursing home feel” is the initiative’s third component. DeLain is on the system’s committee that focuses on dining room standards. “We’re moving to the use of linen tablecloths and napkins, having softer lighting, playing soft music and getting away from having a medication cart in the dining room,” she says. “It’s going into a restaurant feel and changing the overall look and feel of the dining rooms so residents don’t feel like they are in a nursing home but going into a different restaurant area.”

At St. Brigid’s, the café was redone into an Italian bistro theme. DeLain says the ultimate goal is to have an outdoor dining space attached to the café, but for right now the café is designed like an outdoor café, with elements like awnings. DeLain says they are trying to make the bistro more “homelike.”

Good food: The last component is quality production. “Two years ago when we looked at this and how we were going to raise satisfaction we wondered if we should bring more chefs on board or do we go the route where we invest in our people and give them the training they need to be successful,” Daehn says. They opted for the training route. “We felt we had really good people.”

Culinary directors from across the system have attended training events hosted at vendors such as General Mills, Hormel and U.S. Foodservice. At the events, the culinary directors learn from corporate chefs how they can incorporate the vendor’s products to increase resident satisfaction. Daehn is trying to set up a similar training program with Disney chefs. After the on-site training, some of the vendors have made follow-up visits to the facilities to continue training with the entire kitchen staff.

DeLain says St. Brigid’s is showing the outside community the strides it has made
in the culinary department. Every year the department hosts a holiday party and invites the community to join them. Different stations are set up throughout the facility to give visitors and families of residents a taste of the food the facility offers.

Daehn says the initiative has been successful in raising resident satisfaction. For the past nine months, 88% of the residents have rated the meals as good or excellent. “Obviously we’d like to be as high as we can, but we’d like to be at least in the 94th or 96th percentile,” Daehn added.

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