Foodservice Operation of the Month

3 ways to spark fresh ideas during the pandemic

Here's how the foodservice team at Legacy Retirement Communities has kept excitement on the menu.
COVID ice cream parlor
Photograph courtesy of Legacy Retirement Communities

Nearly a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, energy may seem in short supply as the adrenaline of the early days of 2020 has long faded. But at Legacy Retirement Communities in Lincoln, Neb., the foodservice staff has found a few ways to keep things fresh.

Here’s how Director of Dining Services Robert Darrah and his staff are injecting a bit of excitement into the everyday.

Rally the troops—all of them.

It’s a good time to check in with not only your foodservice staff, but other teams at your operation, if applicable. At Legacy, different functions across the company have banded together to bat around ideas and support one another.

“We said, let’s get everyone together—dining, fitness, nursing, front desk, everybody—and figure out where we’re at and what everyone’s thinking,” says Darrah.

Out of an early meeting of the minds, for example, the teams decided Legacy’s fitness staff would man concierge carts at breakfast and lunch in the first weeks of the pandemic to lessen the sting for residents, who were suddenly forced to dine in their rooms. Going door to door with treats like juice, espresso, donuts and fresh fruit helped make things a little more special and a little less isolating.

“There was no, ‘I’m in fitness so I’m not pushing a coffee cart around,’” Darrah says. “Instead, there was a real energy from coming together and hearing others’ points of view.”

Add a new element to an old routine.

An unexpected situation can provide some freedom to throwing out the old “rules.” As at Legacy, operations have been changes serving times and styles—as well as added new aspects to the old routine.

“People get stuck in the way things are done: Lunch is 11:30 to 1 pm, we serve it this way, blah blah,” Darrah says. “Well, the pandemic really changed that up.”

At Legacy, Darrah invited a violinist—distanced, masked and gloved—to play during a meal, to residents’ delight. And they’ve mixed things up with one-off or recurring special activities like happy hour bar carts and ice cream sundae sessions.

Find little moments to celebrate.

Small gestures can bring much-needed smiles. On Christmas Eve, Legacy staff put together gift bags of hot cocoa, Christmas cookies, candy and other treats—then donned Santa hats and hand-delivered them to residents.

“We can’t let COVID dictate our joy,” Darrah says. “We decided, we’re going to make everyone a little more comfortable and a little more happy—and you could see it in [residents’] faces. They loved it!”

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