Choosing an Assisted Living Food Service Company to Cultivate Culture Change in Long-Term Care

Table of Contents:

Photo of an assisted living food service employee with seniors

By Todd Lindsay, Director of Business Development

Abstract

Assisted Living Facilities and Senior Care Residences are adapting to myriad trends created by a "Culture Change" in how services are being delivered to an aging population. Baby Boomers have greater expectations and are demanding a wider scope of care services at a higher quality level than previous generations. The result is an evolving "culture change" for independent living in senior care facilities that has transformed how services are provided to more person-centered care or resident-directed care practices. One prevalent trend focuses on food preferences in older adults and seniors who want more choice and variety as well as increased social interaction in the dining area. Executives at senior care facilities have identified that outsourcing food services at assisted living organizations is a cost-effective solution for addressing these needs. Partnering with a food services management company that understands how to drive these cultural changes at senior living facilities will make a significant contribution to the health and well-being of each resident.

Cultural Trends Changing Long-Term Care Dining Services

Photo of prime rib plate at long-term care dining services.

In the assisted living food service industry, there are few trends having a greater impact on senior resident dining and elder dietary nutrition than “culture change.” More than just a catchphrase, "culture change" in assisted living residences and senior care facilities has evolved to mean person-centered care or resident-directed care. This new, innovative and enlightened approach is transforming how assisted living communities deliver resident care to today's a more empowered generation of seniors who want more variety and a better lifestyle.

The focus is now on resident participation, satisfaction and well-being. In a word, it’s about “choice.”

Resident satisfaction surveys in a variety of senior housing and assisted living facilities have identified a strong correlation between innovative dining programs and overall contentment of residents. A study conducted by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, has shown that “meals and activities are the daily focus of residents”, and that “food services, food/meals, and the mealtime/dining experience consistently influence resident satisfaction with facilities and quality of life.”

Forward-thinking Food Management Company

A senior dining company that cares about and wants to be an active participant in cultural changes with respect to foodservices, must be aware of the new food preferences in older adults and seniors and be forward-thinking with how they deliver food services to residents.

This means giving residents the choice of eating where, when and what they want; serving their favorite recipes; offering a variety of global cuisines and gluten-free options; cooking with locally-sourced foods; providing more opportunities to socialize and celebrate special occasions with food; and turn every-day meals into causes for celebration.

Photo of senior care foodservice display on the patio.

Outsourcing Drives Culture Change in Senior care Facilities

Outsourcing provides a unique opportunity for the executive team of a senior living facility to help cultivate the rapidly moving cultural changes taking place in the senior care community today. Whether you organization is an Assisted Living Facility, a Senior Care Residence, a Residential Care Community, an Independent Living Residence, or an Age-In-Place facility, outsourcing is a viable strategy for a multitude of reasons.

Specialized Food Services Inspire Culture Change

Integrating the expertise of an accomplished third party services provider with a highly specialized portfolio of services into your organization's day-to-day operations can almost over-night drive culture change with new and innovative processes and management efficiencies. This strategy has the ability to enhance the overall senior living experience while decreasing operating costs.

Research shows that the benefits of implementing resident focused culture change within an assisted living facility are many and include higher occupancy rates, increased staff retention and decreased staff absenteeism. That’s not to mention the significant competitive advantages that are gained for a long term care residence when happy, engaged residents speak positively about their assisted living experience with friends and family members.

Long-term Care Communities Must Utilize Outsourcing

Photo of peach cobbler at long-term care community.

Despite these positive outcomes, many senior long-term care communities find it challenging to fully embrace culture change, particularly when it comes to utilizing outsourced assisted living dining services.

Many senior care facilities simply don’t have the in-house regulatory and culinary talent to plan and document a compliant, well-rounded senior dining program. Another roadblock includes a shrinking supply of qualified hourly and management employees, requiring assisted living communities to do more with less. Additionally, these assisted-living-facilities don't have the requisite in-house training resources that are necessary for providing a dining services program in a cost-effective manner.

Nonetheless, regulations from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) now mandate informed choice in long-term care communities. As staffing and resources become more scarce, this will cause many assisted living communities to increasingly rely on outsourcing for critical operations such as cafeteria management.

Benefits of Outsourcing Assisted Living Food Service

Photo of outdoor assisted living food service area.

When engaged with an innovative food services company, outsourcing food management better positions senior living organizations to fully complement as well as embrace the benefits and advantages of the new culture change within the senior care community. These benefits include:

  • Lower food costs: Volume purchasing contracts give food management companies bulk buying power, generating food cost savings they pass on to your community.
  • Higher operational efficiencies: Outsourcing food service purchasing, employee recruitment, training, benefits management and scheduling leads to substantial savings in administrative time and human resource costs, fewer service interruptions from unplanned gaps in coverage, the ability to turn Surprise Service Disruptions Into Surprisingly Positive Dining Experiences.
  • Superior service: A comprehensive senior dining company will have the resources to provide ongoing employee development and training. A well-trained staff with up-to-date knowledge of regulations, safety and food quality standards, and all aspects of senior dining improves the quality of service you deliver residents.
  • Reduced risk: Keeping up with the confusing web of food management regulations and safety standards has become overwhelming for short-staffed assisted living communities — especially with the expectation to deliver individualized services. Working with a knowledgeable, food management company with a track record in senior dining reduces the liabilities inherent in high-risk work environments, as well as potential noncompliance costs.
  • Better outcomes: Safe, professionally trained employees with competitive benefits and pay are more skilled, more motivated and more committed to building a career of service to your residents. Happy employees lead to happier residents — and more positive outcomes for the community.

Importantly, a strategy of outsourcing assisted living food services allows the management team to focus on other vital areas of senior care.

Partnering With A Senior Dining Company

Photo of senior dining company crew preparing food service.

There are many factors to consider when selecting the best senior dining management company and food services provider for your senior living facility. These considerations range from the dietary nutrition needs of the elderly to the range of food choices to the ever growing demands of the Baby Boomers as well as controlling operational costs. An excellent guide entitled "The Definitive Guide for Selecting a Food Service Provider for Your Company Cafeteria" was created by Cafe Services, Inc. and provides detailed selection criteria covering all aspects of food service and dining management services.

Although this guide is focused primarily on corporate cafeteria management, the majority of info provided is directly applicable for selecting assisted living foodservices. Considerations unique to dining management services for senior housing, retirement homes and long-term care facilities are discussed in more detail throughout this article.

Yet, despite the advantages of outsourcing and the challenges of go-it-alone culture change, assisted living communities have been slower than public- and private-sector companies to adopt outsourced food service models.

Baby Boomers Demanding Foodservice Changes

However, this will change as Baby Boomers become more entrenched in independent living housing and senior communities bringing with them high expectations for richer, more varied experiences in senior dining and all aspects of resident life. Importantly, recent senior living dining trends demonstrate there is now emerging an increasing requirement to provide gourmet foods, more diverse and healthier food choices, flexibility in meal-times and dining hours as well as comfortable, modernized dining facilities where meals are enjoyed and social activities can occur.

To satisfy the demands of this evolving market, what factors should managers of senior resident and long-term care communities consider when looking to outsource foodservices and dining management services to a food management company?

Cultural Alignment With Your Assisted Living Foodservice Company Is Priority #1

Photo of assisted living foodservice company serving a meal.

The most important consideration is management approach and company culture. If, as an assisted living residence manager, your goal is to support "culture change", you will want to partner only with a company that embraces an enlightened hospitality-driven approach to food service management.

A recent article published by Michigan State University entitled Organizational Culture in the Hospitality Industry states that "The best hospitability organizations have a quality culture, one that’s guided by the belief that bottom line performance takes care of itself when everyone in the organization is committed to and practices managing for quality."

"The most important consideration is management approach and company culture. If, as an assisted living residence manager, your goal is to support "culture change", you will want to partner only with a company that embraces an enlightened hospitality-driven approach to food service management."
Todd Lindsay, Director of Business Development Glendale Senior Dining, Inc

The bottom line: Resident satisfaction and wellness translates to high occupancy rates and drives positive financial results, not the other way around.

To gain an authentic picture of a food management company’s culture, tour other long-term care communities where the food services company has been operating for some time. You’ll get the most accurate impression by visiting communities where the resident population and culture shares similarities with your organization.

Pay special attention to the composure and professionalism of the chef, and hospitality staff. Do they interact with residents in a warm, yet respectful manner? Do they exude confidence and efficiency as they go about their tasks?

What about the residents? Are they engaged with others and enjoying the food? Do they appear comfortable approaching the management staff?

Also, take note of the setting and ambiance. Does the dining area have an inviting feel? Is it tastefully decorated as well as clean, well-lit and safe? Does the food look fresh? What attention is given to food presentation? If you see residents lingering to socialize, take that as a good sign!

Prepare and Ask Detailed Questions of Your Foodservices Provider

Your site tour validates the offerings and unique value propositions presented during the proposal phase. Typically, this includes meetings with the food service provider’s senior management and other key personnel such as the registered dietitian, onsite manager and the culinary team.

Attributes of A Forward-Thinking Assisted Living Food Services Company
Practices Culture Change in Their Own Company Partner With Your Team to Drive Culture Change With Innovative Food Services
Environmentally Friendly and Supportive of Your Facilities "Green" Initiatives Socially Conscious and Give Back to Local Area Charities and Food pantries
Offers More Choices at Each Meal Offers A Wider Variety of Healthy Choices
Provides Ethnic Food Offerings Provides the Resident's Favorite Recipes
Offers Flexible Dining Times for Each Meal Offers Longer Dining Room Operating Hours
Staffed With Gourmet and Internationally Trained Chefs Offers Interesting Gourmet Meals and Unique Dining Themes
Provides Organic Foods Provides Locally Grown Produce
Offers Gluten Free Dining Options Offers Low Sodium and Special Dietary needs
Offers Minimally Processed & Trans Fat Free Options Offers Low Calorie Options, Healthy Ingredients and Whole Grains
Dining Room Design Encourages Social Interaction Provides Opportunities to Socialize with Specialized Meal Events
Offers Special/Celebration and Holiday Meals They Offer Catered Events
Friendly, Caring Customer Service Oriented Staff Compliant with All Local Health Ordinances and Government Regulations
Well Trained Service Staff Up-To-Date with Safety, Regulations and Food Quality Standards Back-up Staff Available for Emergency or Unusual Situations
Foodservice Enhances the Overall Senior Living Experience Focused on Decreasing Operating Costs with Foodservices Management Practices

Prior to your meeting, provide the vendor with all the information they need to develop an accurate proposal. These figures should include your annual food budget, and how much catering you expect to do. Also, whether or not your senior dining operation will be all or partly staffed by your own employees along with their pay rates, insurance requirements and other employee data. Be sure to ask questions about:

  • Company background — including history, mission and core values as well as years of experience, locations, management bios and organization chart.
  • Differentiators — What distinguishes the food management company from competitors and how will these factors impact service quality at your organization?
  • Resources — Ask about food quality standards, use of green products and processes, and relationships with local, regional and national suppliers.
  • Culinary Offerings — Request descriptions of food service plans including sample menus for the dining room and catering; special promotions; and options for special diets.
  • Organizational Development — Ask for information on the food management company’s employee training and career development programs, emergency and disaster response plans, and food safety and compliance training procedures.
  • Lifestyle and Wellness Programming — Learn how the assisted living food management company implements employee health and wellness and sustainable eating programs. Sample promotional calendars will give you a sense for how the provider approaches resident engagement.
  • Evaluate Your Dining Facility - Finally, rule out any assisted living food service provider that doesn’t request a tour of your kitchen and dining facilities. Having access to the right equipment and a healthy, hazard-free environment are essential not only to compliance, but also to creating an engaging environment where quality and choice can thrive.

Summary

A "Cultural Change" is evolving in Assisted Living Facilities and Senior Care Residences for how services are being delivered to an aging population.
High-quality person-centered care or resident-directed care services are being demanded from the aging Baby Boomer population. This is particularly true with dining services and food preferences. Senior care executives have identified that outsourcing food services in assisted living facilities is a strategic and cost-effective solution to address the dining needs of this aging population. Choosing an assisted living food services company who understands and embraces the "Culture Change" that is taking place is critical for ensuring the success of senior living communities and each resident's well-being.