I recently spoke with a resident in a senior care community who described her on-going sense of being "the odd man out" in the dining room. Why? Because all the tables were set with even numbers of place settings. A single person, she felt discouraged trying to choose a place to sit—even when there was no one else at the table. She was constantly being reminded of her singleness.
How well is your dining environment prepared to meet residents' needs for belonging and community? At the table, inclusiveness is key. Residents may be feeling a sense of isolation, perhaps missing lost loved ones, especially on holidays and important personal milestones, such as birthdays and anniversaries. How well is your organization bringing people together?
The dining experience is a natural place to transform neighbors into friends, but residents must first feel comfortable and welcome.
One solution is the community table.
Often, dining rooms are set up to accommodate large numbers of residents and tables are set for two, four, six or eight people. Adding one long table to the dining room, or pushing two or three tables together, without pre-arranged place settings, may be a good start. In Europe, community tables are often found in restaurants. Singles and small groups of friends join together to eat with strangers. This model is even catching on in U.S. restaurants. Consider adopting this solution to support single residents in your dining room.
Encouraging social activity helps too.
Invite your mid-morning coffee group or afternoon rummy players to use the new community table. Or team with the Activity Director to have residents create decorations for the dining environment. Group involvement helps single residents feel a sense of belonging.
Finally, remember servers are key to creating an atmosphere of community.
Have servers make a special effort to engage with newer residents, or those who tend to have trouble starting conversations for themselves. Make sure your staff seeks out single diners, inviting them to share stories with the larger group.
Conversation starters can be very simple. If there's an upcoming activity or event, have servers ask residents if they plan to attend. Or inquire about residents' pets and favorite hobbies. Encourage servers to come up with things residents have in common and test them out as conversation starters at the table.
Serving staff have a unique opportunity to model bringing warmth to one another in this environment. Most residents become attached to staff, whom they see more often than family. In this way, servers can help you exceed the updated Quality Initiative Survey (QIS) process
service expectations and proposed New Dining Practice Standards
. These recommendations mandate we meet higher standards of service quality, based in better relationships among all stakeholders. With the skills to connect people, servers can create an atmosphere of community—truly making your dining room home to the new family table.