Culinary Leadership Senior Living

How To Overcome Closed Dining Rooms in Senior Living Communities

By Andrew Coates, Vice President, Culinary

Before COVID-19, the dining room was central to how culinary teams in senior living communities delivered an exceptional dining experience. It was the place where residents ate great food and enjoyed the company of their friends. It even helped them get some exercise as they walked from their rooms to the dining area.

All of that has now changed.

COVID-19 has shut down dining rooms in senior living communities across the country. Culinary teams are now faced with the challenge of delivering an exceptional dining experience while adhering to strict social distancing guidelines. 

There are three things that you can focus on to successfully navigate this new challenge and nourish your residents while keeping them safe:

  • • Listen to your residents and understand their needs.

  • • Stay positive and motivate your team.

  • • Keep cleaning and disinfecting.

Listen to your residents

With dining rooms being shut down, you’re unable to interact with residents in your senior living community the same way you were before COVID-19. Those daily interactions, whether you realized it or not, helped your culinary team listen to residents and remain aware of their needs.

Although those interactions aren’t happening anymore, it's never been more important to listen to residents and understand their needs.

That’s why it’s paramount to establish clear lines of communication. You can do that by:

  • • Including comment cards with every meal.

  • • Providing an email address where residents can reach out to culinary staff and make special
    requests.

  • • Following up special requests with a phone call to ensure that the service was delivered
    correctly and to show that you genuinely care.

Stay positive and motivate your team

The culture inside your kitchen is critical right now. The work environment changed overnight, and you need a strong culture of positivity to successfully navigate this crisis.

Start with a daily huddle. Remind each of your team members that the work they’re doing is essential. They’re providing nourishment for some of the most vulnerable people to this disease. Reiterating that value every day will keep your team motivated and focused on what’s most important.

Be hyper aware of how your team members are doing individually. If you notice someone is having a rough day, ask them what you can do to support them.

The better we are at taking care of our own team members, the better we will be at serving our residents in our senior living communities.

Yes, it’s worth repeating: focus on safety and cleanliness

You can’t focus enough on keeping your kitchen safe and clean. The virus that causes COVID-19 can be transmitted through items you touch and the food you prepare.

That’s why it’s important to take every precaution to keep your kitchen as clean as possible.

  • CNS-BOH Kitchen-87

    • Frequently clean high-touch areas: door handles, tables,
    light switches, etc.

  • • Hand wash dishes every hour.

  • • Regularly re-educate your team on how to properly
    remove gloves and wash hands.

  • • Bring in extra cooking tables to allow team members to safely practice social distancing while
    preparing food.

If you take every effort to keep your kitchen as clean as possible, you will instill confidence in residents as well as community administrators. That can do a lot to boost morale.

As your culinary team performs essential work in your senior living community each day, keep these three things at the forefront of everything you do. As added assurance that items are being followed, ask yourself these questions:

  • • Do I have clear avenues of communication between my staff and the residents so I can listen to • them and understand their needs? 

  • • How is the culture in my kitchen? 

  • • How can I positively influence my team?

  • • Are there specific team members that need encouragement today?

  • • Are there ways I can further ramp up cleaning processes?

By asking yourself these questions, you’ll remain focused on doing what you do best: serving delicious meals to your residents that keeps them nourished and safe.

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