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A senior living dining team plots its next steps

With its yearslong renovation in the rearview mirror, Bethany’s dining team has its sights set squarely on what’s ahead. In time, it hopes that the larger community of Waupaca, Wis., will see Bethany’s dining concepts as just another restaurant option, says Josh Eggeman, dining management consultant for the senior living center.

“Waupaca’s a pretty small town, only about 6,000 people,” he says. “[So] we tried to set up concepts that would be kind of unique, that Waupaca doesn’t offer foodservice-wise, that could help draw people in.”

Central to that endeavor was ensuring ample dining space in fast-casual concept Bleu Barn, which seats 70, and full-service Fireside Grill, with seating for up to 100, as well as ensuring guests could access both eateries from the building exterior.

“Once the dust kind of settles here, we’ll really start to go after those sales from outside,” Eggeman said late last year, prior to the renovation’s completion.

Delivery to the public is one avenue being considered to that end. Using Bethany’s demonstration kitchen for a weekly cooking show and community events is another. “We have to-go menus at our restaurants, we have drivers that are running around town for various other reasons,” Eggeman says, implying that the infrastructure for delivery beyond Bethany’s campus is already somewhat in place. They’ve also tossed around the idea of selling Bleu Barn’s frozen pizzas—a hit with independent living residents—at local grocery stores.

Seeking inside sales

While external marketing hasn’t been a big focus so far, the team’s dipped its toes into promoting its concepts internally. When Bleu Barn opened during phase one of Bethany’s renovation project, the dining team invited independent living residents to a tasting event at the fast casual, during which they could chat about the menu and try samples. To encourage repeat visits, the team handed out punch cards, allowing customers to earn a free meal after 10 punchworthy purchases. 

For now, the team is focused on the more immediate tasks at hand, such as implementing a new menu at Bethany’s Fireside Grill, one that takes advantage of the main kitchen’s new wood smoker and includes such dishes as scratch-made buttermilk fried chicken. Staff are also working to craft seasonal cycle menus that incorporate these updated offerings.

“It’s just been really rewarding being able to see it all come together,” says Mary Schumacher, Bethany’s director of food and beverage, who noted that the revamped menu is being received “really, really well.”

Making meaningful strides

The department’s overall changes were dramatic, and so too have been many of its gains. Team members have become more positive, motivated and “have just been phenomenal,” Eggeman says. Sales have also grown, with staff meal purchases more than doubling; guest meal purchases have increased upwards of 300%.

And in terms of the main customers, the residents?

“They love it,” Eggeman says. “People are really just blown away.”

Photo courtesy of Bethany

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