Brought to you by Higher Standards: a passion for hospitality

Best Practices

Assess, Then Act 

Successful interactions with dining room servers make a world of difference in how residents view your senior living community

Why does delivering good dining service in senior care communities seem so hard? In a nutshell, it has not traditionally been part of our culture. Until recently, we operated under a largely institutional model. How we delivered food to people was of minimal concern. The focus was on preserving the system and providing nutrition at minimal cost, not the emotional needs of the person eating. Critics have compared food service in care communities with that in schools, prisons and the military and it's no secret most people wince when they think of eating in "nursing homes." But today, senior care communities cannot afford to ignore the service aspect of dining if they wish to remain competitive in the marketplace.

Want to improve resident satisfaction with your community? Improve dining service.
Mealtimes are so important to residents that if they enjoy eating in your community, they are more satisfied overall with living there. And conversely, the less they enjoy eating in your community, the less satisfied they are overall. The bar graph at right highlights research by Press Ganey (click to enlarge). You can see their findings hold true from all levels of senior housing options: nursing homes, assisted living, and independent living.

When describing what leads to mealtime satisfaction, residents have three service expectations that stand out:
  1. Server courtesy and attitude during service
  2. The social skills of their servers
  3. Service techniques
In other words, servers are central figures in dining quality. Servers are creating the ambiance during mealtimes. If servers understand and use high standards of hospitality, residents’ expectations can be met.

Where to start? Stop, look, and listen. Monitor all three meals and snack times, daily, in every dining room. While observing, ask yourself:
  • What does good service feel like to you? Do you think residents feel the same?
  • What do your residents value in mealtime service?
  • What are you seeing as you stop to pour coffee? Or, better yet, sit down to have a cup of coffee?
  • How smoothly do your servers interact with residents? With one another?
At the very least, this practice should illuminate areas where staff are falling short and give you some idea where training should begin. Break down the process of dining service and analyze what works and what doesn’t.

Then, act to establish standards and address the problems through training and coaching. By teaching servers the skills they need, a service makeover is not only possible, but inevitable. Staff with consistent standards, skills and expectations know what they need to do, are able to do it, and are more satisfied with their jobs. In addition, when servers understand the importance of dining to overall resident satisfaction, they begin to understand the importance of their roles and take pride in them. Servers are the face of the company, communicating the values of your organization through their actions and attitudes. When service skills are performed well and positive attitudes are consistently projected, residents feel they are receiving respect, attention and care. Ultimately, this can result in more satisfied customers and higher revenues.

Success Stories

Villa Crest Wins Again!

National HealthCare Corporation (NHC), one of the nation’s leading operators of senior care services, awarded Villa Crest Nursing and Retirement Center the highest NHC honor this year: the Center of the Year award. In addition, Villa Crest received NHC’s Five Star Excellence Certification Award, the premium category for operational performance. It recognizes the outstanding services provided by the center’s staff and publicly recognizes the center and its staff as one of NHC’s best.

Villa Crest embraced Kind Dining® Training in 2010 when they revamped their dining service and won the 2011 Optima Award from Long-Term Living Magazine.

Congratulations to Administrator Sarah McEvoy, Chef Manny Perry, and the fantastic team at Villa Crest!

Kind Dining® Training

Free: 3 Ways to Use Kind Dining® Certificate Cards

You trained hard; keep the Kind Dining® momentum going: Higher Standards recently introduced Kind Dining® Certificate Cards. Servers and trainers who complete Kind Dining® Training at a licensed community will receive, in addition to their framable completion certificate, one of these colorful wallet-sized cards recognizing their accomplishment. Certificate cards create an excellent opportunity for managers to recognize the servers' importance to your entire organization and encourage on-going improvement. For ideas about using Kind Dining® Certificate Cards in your community, download your free copy of 3 Ways to Use Kind Dining® Certificate Cards today. For even more tips and ideas, subscribe to the Kind Dining® blog and follow us at Twitter or Facebook.

For Best Results: Take Ownership

Working together as a team helps everyone in your organization succeed—individually and as a group. One important step in team-building is deciding who will take responsibility for each task that must be performed. Assigning responsibilities based on well-defined goals and each staff member's strengths boosts efficiency, because you don't have to figure out who is supposed to do what each shift. You also don't have to wonder if everything is getting done properly, or if a job task was forgotten.

Smart leaders work together with their entire team to brainstorm the best fit between people and assigned responsibilities. For instance, if a staff member is particularly skilled at record keeping, they may be the best person to take responsibility for inventorying supplies and reporting back to the Dining Services Manager in time for reorders.

Servers with higher standards take ownership for their areas of responsibility, which means they quickly become respected, trusted team members. Take ownership by:
  • Ensuring your assigned tasks are consistently completed on time and according to company standards
  • Working on your own professional and personal development to improve your results over time
  • Seeking ways to cooperate with other team members as they manage their own areas of responsibility
  • Recognizing, valuing and thanking your coworkers when they do a good job

Centerpiece Expertise

Don't block conversation with your table decor. Have you ever tried to talk to your dinner companions around a large centerpiece? At first the people straight across from each other lean and peek through the flowers. Eventually, they just give up and confine themselves to visiting with the person to their immediate right or left. Worse! We recently heard of a wedding where guests moved the large centerpieces off the table and abandoned them along one wall.

One of the great joys of mealtime is visiting with other people. Table decor, however beautiful, should never hinder conversation. This is especially true in our senior living communities where one of the key reasons residents come to the dining room is to be in community with their friends and neighbors.

Although most senior living communities do not create over-sized centerpieces fit for a designer wedding, it's not unusual to see fairly tall bud vases with tall flowers used in our dining rooms. Take a good look at your centerpieces. Are residents able to see around them easily? Or are they moving themselves or the flower vases when they want to speak to someone across the table. Sit down where residents sit with a co-worker directly across from you. Do you see flowers instead of your table companion? If so, it's time to rethink your table decor.

The maximum height for your centerpieces should be 8" so people can easily see and talk to each other. Flower bowls and cubes, baskets, small paper bags and clay pots are all useful for creating lovely arrangements. Browse the Internet with the search term "low centerpieces" for inspiration.

Coming to Terms with Culture Change

As I travel the country teaching Kind Dining® and advocating for higher standards of dining service, I encounter many people who harbor mixed feelings about the term "culture change," often including some resentment—as if avoiding it will somehow make it go away. I am learning this is a habitual attitude of many employees working in senior living communities. I sense it's because their leadership has been short-sighted about involving and trusting all staff in the long-term success of their community.

No matter how you feel about the culture change movement, come to terms with it. Don't hold back from the experience, because culture shift has already arrived. Last month, Sarah McEvoy and I presented More than a Meal: Blending hospitality and service in a culture change environment at Pioneer Network's annual conference in Jacksonville, Florida. The organizational team from Pioneer Network did a beautiful job embracing culture change and advocating for person-centered care, and participants responded. During our talk, the room was packed and we had an open discussion about what works and what doesn't work in the changing dining environment.

Getting dining right will benefit your residents, staff, and ultimately, your company. It's a nurturing process that takes into account each person connected to it. Understanding and implementing the process in the right order is critical to profitability and long-term success. Make "nurturing people first" the on-going theme of your organizational culture change and success will follow.

For more inspiration and ideas about successful culture change, read Hospitality for Boomers: How to attract residents, retain staff, and maximize profitability.

As always, if I can be of service as you improve the dining experience in your community, please call me or e-mail any time.

Kind Regards,

Cindy Heilman, MS, DTR

Higher Standards, LLC

Upcoming Events

Cindy Heilman, MS, DTR, will present How to Meet the Demanding Dining Needs of Boomers at AHCA/NCAL Annual Convention & Expo in Tampa Florida on October 7th. Register today.

Hospitality for Boomers
Order today and save 10%!

Hospitality for Boomers: How to attract residents, retain staff, and maximize profitability by Cindy Heilman, MS, DTR, is available now.

What would happen community-wide if you could boost customer satisfaction, resident rapport, and employee morale, all while improving your competitive edge? This quick read shares a unique service perspective and is full of hospitality tips.

Order copies for your staff today and save 10% off regular pricing: $19.95 $17.95 + S&H. (Call for volume discount pricing.)


"The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others."
Mahatma Gandhi

Image credit: Gandhi at Juhu, Bombay, May 1944 via Wikimedia Commons, author unknown

Kind Dining® Pins

Do your servers wear Kind Dining® pins? If not, present them with a pin to wear next to their name badge. It's a great way to recognize their work "bringing warmth to the table" and will help spark conversation about your organization's efforts to set higher standards in the dining room. Available now, order today!
Warmth Pin
Be Kind Pin

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