LARRY BATES has upgraded foodservice at RIDDLE VILLAGE by:
• Fostering a team atmosphere where managers have the freedom to be creative
• Adding dining venues and amenities to prevent resident boredom
• Implementing the flex dining program, where residents have a certain dollar amount to spend each month
• Increasing menu options and adding upscale items
Larry Bates, Riddle VillageHaving the right person in a leadership position makes all the difference, according to Gloria Tursi, assistant dining director for 500-resident Riddle Village. “With the wrong person here—and we’ve had them—there’s no sparkle, no wow,” Tursi says. She is quick to point out that the right person—Larry Bates—is now at the helm at this retirement community in Media, Pa.
During the past seven years, the management team at Riddle Village, under the leadership of Bates, director of dining services, has evolved into a cohesive unit. “Larry isn’t on top of me or the management team,” Tursi adds. “He lets us flow. He asks for everyone’s input. It makes us feel that he appreciates our thoughts. It makes everyone happy that he’s not a one-man show. We’ve had many directors so it’s easy to see that, because there are some managers who don’t even entertain the idea that you have a thought. It’s all their thoughts.”
For his part, Bates knows the department can’t be successful unless there’s a team effort. “In reality the culinary team are the ones who make it happen,” he says.
Creating that collaborative management team has enabled the foodservice department at Riddle Village to implement a host of changes in the past couple of years.
Adding options: Bates has been in foodservice since the age of 14, when he “realized he could make more money washing dishes than throwing newspapers.” The first part of his culinary career was spent working in hotels, restaurants and country clubs. After enduring the long hours of a chef in the commercial scene, Bates moved to healthcare foodservice in 1995. In 2005 he joined Riddle Village.
“When you go to a restaurant it is the way it is, but next week you can choose to go somewhere else,” Bates says, adding that his residents don’t have that option. “We want to keep [our operation] fresh and new. We try to reinvent the wheel for them.”
To combat resident dining boredom, Bates and his team have created multiple dining venues and programs.
Instead of one main dining room, Riddle Village has two dining rooms, a buffet service, café and lounge. The second dining room opened in 2009 to give residents another dining venue.
The Garden Terrace Café is open for lunch Monday through Saturday, dinner on Sunday and breakfast on Wednesday and Friday. Bates says the menu at the café is similar to what you would find at any diner. Seating is available and some grab-and-go items are offered. Breakfast is a new service at the café. Bates admits that not many residents take advantage of the breakfast option, but his philosophy is to offer the residents the greatest number of dining choices possible.
“For us it’s about serving the residents and them enjoying the program,” Bates says. “We look at [adding these programs] as an improvement of service, and that improvement in service helps market the facility. By marketing the facility through the services you increase your occupancy.”
The lounge, called the Thoroughbred Club, was added four years ago as another way to increase service. The lounge is open between 3 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The management team conceived the lounge as a place where residents could grab a drink before dinner or while they were waiting to be seated at the Governor’s Inn, Riddle Village’s formal dining room. The lounge offers a full bar, as well as appetizers. Bates says that the lounge has two waves of customers, one before dinner and one after. He adds that because most of the lounge’s customers are regulars, Bates’ team decided to add some boredom-beating variety to the lounge’s menu. A four-week cycle of appetizers was developed by Tursi, and now residents “have something to look forward to, especially the regulars,” she says.
Riddle Village has an extensive program of special meals. For example, a large brunch is served the second Sunday of every month. Every fourth Monday Bates offers a special lunch buffet. Instead of being served in the informal dining room where the buffet is normally available, the buffet is served in the Governor’s Inn. This change of venue is important to keep things different for residents, Bates says. Every Friday between Memorial Day and Labor Day the team holds a cookout for lunch. Hamburgers, hot dogs, macaroni and cheese and ribs are some of the items offered.
Tursi says the team also makes every effort to make catered events special for residents. For example, one resident wants to do a 65th wedding anniversary lunch for a group of 45. “I asked her what her bridesmaids wore and what her colors were so that we could try to match,” she says. “ Whenever a resident wants to do something personal we always make it special.”
Flex dining: After adding all the different options for the residents, Bates wanted to put even more control into their hands. He implemented a flex dining program a year ago that works like a declining balance plan on a college campus. Most retirement communities have a per-meal dining plan each month. If residents don’t use all their allotted meals in the month, they “lose” those meals. Also, if residents only ate a bowl of soup at lunch and wanted a meal at dinner, that would count as two meals, instead of the resident being allowed to carry over money between meal periods.
With the flex dining program residents are given a certain amount of money allotment each month. They are free to use that wherever and however they choose. The program allows the residents the freedom to take advantage of all the different dining venues. For example, a resident could grab a drink and appetizer at the lounge before eating dinner in the Governor’s Inn.
Another positive, Bates says, is that residents are using their flex dining plans to bring in family or friends to join them for a meal. That, in turn, helps market the facility to the outside community.
The flex dining program took the staff and residents some getting used to, Bates admits. The staff had to learn a new POS system, similar to what is used at any commercial restaurant. Bates says it took about three months for the residents to get used to the new program, but they have now come to love the flexibility. “The reality is they are making out better,” he adds.
Bates says the residents have changed some of their dining patterns since the flex program started. More residents are eating in the buffet and the volume in the Governor’s Inn has decreased slightly. “The more time that goes by the better they get at managing those dollars for their best interest,” Bates says.
Menu changes: Because of the flex dining program, residents also have a broader choice of foods, many of them on the upscale side. Before the flex dining program it didn’t make financial sense for Bates to offer certain dishes on the everyday menu. Now, Bates is able to offer dishes like filet mignon, shrimp cocktails and lobster tail because he can charge more for those items than for other options that are less expensive to produce.
The Governor’s Inn offers four daily entrée options, along with an á la carte menu that has 13 options.
Even with all the changes to Riddle Village’s dining program, Bates isn’t slowing down. The café is scheduled for a complete remodel in the near future. That renovation, Bates says, will be yet another way residents can get more choices and have greater flexibility in their dining program.