BRAD LANGE has revitalized the foodservice at PARK REGENCY by:
• GAINING the respect and trust of his staff, which has increased staff satisfaction
• RETRAINING cooks to cater to the seniors' dining preferences
• INCREASING resident satisfaction through weekly Menu Chats and making himself visible in the dining room
• STARTING an all-day dining program and increasing the menu mix
• CONSOLIDATING to one standard menu, which has improved consistency and lowered costs
Brad Lange, Park Regency Retirement CommunityLike a lot of teenagers, Brad Lange took a job working in a restaurant as a dishwasher. After a stint in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War, Lange found himself without a paycheck. “I couldn’t get a job, so I got back in the kitchen,” he says. “I didn’t think I would be going back in the kitchen again. Then I went to culinary school. I tried my hand in just about everything [hospitals and hotels, mostly in New York City]. I feel comfortable where I am.”
That place is 220-resident Park Regency, a retirement community in Chandler, Ariz. Park Regency is part of Brookdale Senior Living, which operates more than 550 assisted living and retirement communities throughout the country. Lange has been the director of dining services for the past eight months. “I’m loving it out here,” he says. “I’ve been out here since ’96. It’s a lot easier than working in New York City. I had my windows shot out when I worked in the city, so I said, ‘I’ve got to get out of here.’”
Lange’s comfort at Park Regency has spread to his staff as well. Executive Chef Jacinda Shipe has been with the community for five years, and she says that since Lange’s arrival employee satisfaction has increased. “In the kitchen the employees have become a happier crew and less stressed,” she says. “Brad is very hands-on and he’s in the mix. He’s easy to approach when we have problems. He doesn’t mind getting in and helping us out. He makes it possible to enjoy the work that we do. He inspires us to do the best that we can.”
Retraining: Lange knew he wanted to make changes to the community’s menus, but first he had to retrain his staff to cater to the senior’s dining preferences. “When you’re dealing with senior citizens, if it tastes good, but it’s not tender they’re not going to eat it,” he says. “Dealing with seniors, they know what they want. A lot of our residents are from New York, so you know how they are. They expect to get what they paid for, no if, ands or buts. My predecessor here was always in his office. I had to retrain all the cooks in the way I felt it should be done.”
Lange says most of the retraining was done informally by working alongside his kitchen staff to show them how he wanted items prepared. “First you have to gain [the staff’s] respect and show them that you really know what you are talking about,” he says. “I did that by getting in there and digging in. If someone went on vacation I would cover his/her shift. Treat them with respect and things fall into place.”
“He trains by example,” Shipe says. “When he sees something that he figures he can improve, he gets in there. He’s brought a whole new element into our kitchen. He’s allowed us to do more high-end things than what we were doing before. He’s raised the bar for us. He’s made [the staff] eager to learn things. He’s told them that the food they put out is a reflection of them and they need to be proud of what they put out.”
Face time: The staff aren’t the only ones who are happier since Lange’s arrival. Resident satisfaction also has increased. Shipe attributes that change to what she says is Lange’s greatest trait: listening. “The residents love him because he will go out [in the dining room], interact with them and talk with them. He has told them that if at any point they need to see him or talk to him, his door is always open.”
Lange makes it a point to go into the dining rooms every day to talk with the residents about what they liked and didn’t like about the day’s meal. “The residents say, ‘I don’t want to complain,’ and I tell them I don’t take it as complaining, I take it as concerns,” Lange says. “The main thing is when they tell you something you need to address it. A lot of managers go around and say, yeah, yeah, yeah, and they don’t follow through. You gain [residents’] admiration and respect just by doing what they request. If they request a certain thing, make it. Then see how they liked it. If they have a better recipe, ask them for it.
“I was talking to someone and he was just happy to know that someone was there,” Lange adds. “After a while [the residents] get to know that I’m sincere when I ask. My managers also go out in the dining room and ask them. We tell them if we don’t know it’s broken we can’t fix it.”
Every Monday Lange holds a Menu Chat with the residents in each level of care: assisted living, memory care, skilled nursing and independent living. During the meetings the residents tell Lange what they liked and didn’t like about the past week’s menu and Lange goes over the upcoming week’s menu. “They like to see old country-style food,” Lange says about resident preferences. “If they can’t pronounce it they don’t want to eat it. It’s got to be fall-off-the-bone tender. We cook everything slow at a low temperature.”
Menu changes: Lange also implemented an all-day dining program. Residents can now dine whenever they feel like coming to the dining rooms. Each day there is a daily entrée special, and that entrée is offered during set times. If a resident comes to dine during a period when the special entrée is not offered, he/she can select from an off-hours menu. The off-hours menu has between 15 and 20 options, which are made to order, including hamburgers, a fish of the week, BLT sandwiches and turkey wraps.
When the all-day dining program was implemented, the menus also changed. Before all-day dining, the different skill levels had different menus. Now all skill levels have the same menu. “Now we have one big inventory where we can share together,” Lange says. “If we need five cases of one product instead of everybody ordering three for one building and three for another building, we just order the five cases and divvy it up. It helps with inventory control, and we are able to cut our costs and control our pennies more.”
Getting involved: In addition to the weekly Menu Chats, Lange and his team do monthly cooking demonstrations to get the residents involved with the dining department. The cooking demos are done in conjunction with Brookdale’s 2011 Celebrations: Amazing Places of the World theme. The Celebrations program “take[s] residents on a virtual trip around the world,” according to the company’s website. The program is a “life enrichment and dining program opportunity.” Each month a different location is “visited.” January’s location was the Venice waterways in Italy; May was the Mayan Ruins in Mexico and August’s location was the Serengeti in Tanzania.
“The cooking demos coincide with our theme meal for the month,” Lange says. “We’re doing the Serengeti this month so we did pumpkin fritters. They like to see the demo, but they are more interested in eating it.” The demos are done in each building, often by a member of Lange’s staff. “I want to give a lot of credit to my staff,” he says. “A manager is only as good as the people around him. Everything that we’ve accomplished I couldn’t have accomplished without them.”
In addition to cooking demos, the month’s Celebrations location is capped off with a birthday theme dinner. “We go from soups to nuts with this,” Lange says. “We have soup, an appetizer, a salad, two entrées based on the theme and a special dessert. The only thing about the appetizer is that the residents like shrimp cocktail, no matter what the theme is. I learned my lesson [during] the first one. I didn’t serve shrimp cocktail. Now whatever the theme is we make sure we serve shrimp cocktail.”