Jerry Seinfeld says that a comedian gets judged by the audience every five seconds. They laugh or they don’t.
Likewise, a senior living operator gets judged by residents multiple times a day, especially with the dining program. Every time a resident goes to a dining room, an on-campus restaurant, a grab-and-go or anything else, the experience informs their opinion of the community as a whole.
This goes beyond just the quality of the food, the atmosphere of the space or the interaction with the staff. Dining engages all five senses and is a powerful driver of memory. A valuable dining experience translates for the resident into a valuable community.
“Spiceology has been a partner of the senior living industry for the last two years now, and we are trying to identify ways to utilize their dining programs to help boost the overall living experience for their members,” says Chad Hall, Vice President of Sales and Client Success for the Spokane, Washington-based Spiceology, which partners with senior living organizations to deliver salt-free blends to senior living kitchens, helping executive chefs save time and boost taste.
“The ability to tie in those senior living communities with meals is something that we’ve had a lot of good conversations on with executive chefs and operators, and is really enhancing the lives of community members.”
Hall and Spiceology identify four surprising ways that a dining program can help a senior living operator more broadly in 2022.
Events and activities
As creative operators know, dining is more than mealtime. Centering community events around food is a strong approach to social engagement.
“What we’ve seen in talking to some of the corporate chefs that oversee multiple properties is they are looking for new fun themes, meals or snacks as ways to tie in to the events they do with the food they are eating,” Hall says. He has seen a movie night with flavored popcorn, exciting meal nights such as chili-margarita tacos or general themed nights with global flavors.
The blends from Spiceology help chefs create unique events that might previously have been challenging, if not impossible, due to resident diet restrictions.
“Operators are building a theme but keeping it simple with our blends so that residents can try different types of food,” Hall says. “The ability to create new flavors and tie those into concepts is really where we’ve seen excitement.”
Even in 2022, prospective residents might still hold a negative connotation around senior living dining, at the very least suspecting that it is markedly worse than the lifestyle to which they are accustomed. High quality ingredients and exciting meals and flavor profiles can help reassure residents that their dining experience will continue to be top notch, even as they lose taste or meet new diet requirements.
“We’ve seen a huge push from some of our partners in improving the quality of the food they are serving,” Hall says. “To be able to promote that they are using quality products or new and innovative products to enhance the dining experience has been a huge focus.”
Hall notes that some operators are even using Spiceology salt-free blends in the gift basket on community tours. This elevates the spice mixes beyond a chef’s tool or a resident’s meal and brings it to the fore of the community’s brand itself. It also underlines for prospects the confidence the community has in its menu.
“If you’re comparing two similar facilities, but one has a great dining program, that can be enough to make someone decide on that location,” Hall says.
Of course, nothing is more important than the wellbeing of residents. Just because a meal is delicious and well made doesn’t mean it’s healthy for residents. And food impacts more than just hunger levels. Sleep, nutrition, ability to exercise and the desire to engage with others — all are impacted by the foods you eat.
“Individuals in these communities want to live a long, healthy life, and that is impacted immensely by the food they eat,” Hall says. “Again, this does tie back to the negative connotation of the food in senior living not being innovative. The conversations we continue to have are around how operators can promote quality food that is healthy, that can enhance a resident’s life and wellbeing and boost their overall happiness.”
Staffing and efficiency
Staffing was a challenge in senior living before the pandemic. Since the pandemic, the problem has ballooned. As of August of 2021, the senior living workforce has shrunk by 9.1% from its pre-pandemic high, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is felt in all aspects of the industry, dining included.
“You have restaurants and dining centers across all verticals that used to have a kitchen of 10 prep cooks — those staffs have been cut down to three or four,” Hall says.
This brings to play the corrosive “do more with less” credo, and while doing more with less is usually not actually possible, Spiceology blends actually do help operators empower their chefs to continue making top meals with fewer staff members. The premade blends have two key benefits. First, they save time. Second, they increase consistency.
“Everyone is having difficulty hiring,” Hall says. “So the ability to use the combination of higher quality ingredients with the innovative salt-free blends has allowed chefs to create delicious healthy meals without as large of a staff as before.”
Spiceology’s work with the American Heart Association and the National Kidney Foundation has helped operators see the power and importance of innovative blends.
“Not having to sacrifice flavor and deliciousness to eat healthy — that’s big for residents, and big for operators,” Hall says. “We’re excited to continue to be a partner of the senior living industry.”
This article is sponsored by Spiceology. To learn more about how you can use your dining program for surprise benefits in 2022, visit spiceology.com/senior-living.
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