This article is sponsored by QSR Automations. In this Voices interview, Senior Housing News sits down with Connor Joffe, Business Consultant of Senior Living for QSR Automations, to learn how senior living operators are using dining technology to make both residents and staff happier. Joffe shares the trends in dining automation, and reveals the secret benefit of this technology: occupancy boosts.
Senior Housing News: Connor, what career experiences do you most draw from in your role today?
Connor Joffe: Prior to joining QSR, I worked with several operators as an executive director, ranging from independent living to memory care. As an experienced administrator, I’ve dealt firsthand with the daily challenges that operators face when striving to meet the needs of residents, especially when resources are limited. That’s what led me to QSR. I’m a strong believer in making a difference in people’s lives, and the technology offered by QSR Automations meets a true need in senior living communities, resulting in a better experience for the resident and the operator..
Studies show that the dining experience is one of the most important factors seniors consider when deciding where to live. I wanted to work with QSR to make that the most seamless and enjoyable experience for the residents because as you may know and as most operators know, dining at a senior living community is more than just eating. It’s about the experience, including socialization, access to quality food and having a range of dining options.
QSR Automations’ ConnectSmart Platform offers automation services to restaurants and kitchens. What areas of their dining operations are senior housing operators-automated?
Joffe: The ConnectSmart Platform has a few different systems. The main system that we’re known for, and what got us into the business almost 30 years ago, is ConnectSmart Kitchen. ConnectSmart Kitchen is what’s known as a KDS: a Kitchen Dining System. A KDS replaces tickets in the kitchen and automates the process for the cooks, reducing ticket times and hence improving food quality, decreasing waste and leading to happier residents in a less stressful kitchen for the staff.
ConnectSmart Host is our front-of-the-house management solution. While it integrates with ConnectSmart Kitchen, you’re also able to use it independently. ConnectSmart Host helps operators with several key areas, including seating efficiency, keeping diners informed of waitlists, reservation management and guest book preferences, while supporting the dining room as a whole.
Lastly, we have ConnectSmart Go, a platform that helps lead the takeout orders. The pandemic has brought a lot of changes to senior living dining with delivery and social distance delivery. ConnectSmart Go helps facilitate those delivery options and increases the satisfaction of residents by making sure that they get their food while it’s still hot.
What are the most exciting outcomes that operators are seeing by bringing automation to their dining program?
Joffe: I think one of the biggest outcomes would be optimized staffing. The staffing crisis is still a big issue in the industry, though I’m hopeful it’s getting better. Automation definitely helps to cut training time and minimize employee turnover because it leads to a less stressful workplace environment. And having happy residents means happy staff and vice versa.
Huge benefits specific to dining include improved food quality and order accuracy. The number one complaint I heard when I was an executive director was the consistency of food. Being able to provide consistent quality meals that are accurate to any dietary restrictions or any preference modifications and getting an accurate order is super important.
The element that’s really crucial to operators is the data. If you’re still using tickets, there is no way of being able to observe and make data-driven decisions within your operations. The ConnectSmart Platform has a whole array of data. It’s extremely customizable. You can gain insights on your operations anywhere from ticket times to cook times, what’s being ordered the most, how to proactively manage orders and knowing what you need to make and how much to make.
All in all, I think dining automation improves the dining experience, which ultimately leads to occupancy growth. That makes it hugely important for senior living operators.
Let’s talk specifically about efficiency. What are the actual nuts and bolts of how and where automation makes a senior living kitchen and dining program more efficient?
Joffe: I would say it improves the dining experience by providing timed delivery of all the orders. That way, stuff isn’t going into the kitchen and dying under the heat lamps. By dying, I mean getting colder or overcooking or becoming dry or something of that nature. Let’s say your kitchen has three workstations. Typically, the grill station is only going to see what the grill’s working on, and the saute station will only see what the saute station is working on. But by integrating and automating these systems, we can make sure the salads for one table, for example, are all produced at the same time, and there’s an appropriate wait time until entrees are served up from the grill station.
I think the transparency that automation brings to the kitchen is crucial. Operators can customize orders with color-coded modifications. If someone ordered a cheeseburger and does not like tomatoes, let’s say, the modification for ‘no tomatoes’ shows up as a different color to make sure that the order is coming out accurately and timely.
And then for the front of the house, automation provides accurate wait times as well as help with reservation management. They don’t need someone at the host stand all day, taking calls or passing out papers for reservations. That technology alleviates the redundancy and makes the whole process for staff and residents less stressful.
How is the guest experience improved by restaurant technology?
Joffe: I’d say the biggest way the restaurant experience is going to improve is having more consistency, both in terms of food quality and timing. Whether it’s a chef who has been there 10 years or a chef who has been there two weeks, the residents should never know who’s working in the back of the kitchen because restaurant technology helps standardize service.
For example, I really love our recipe platform. Whether someone has just started, or a veteran chef is working on a new menu item, staff can literally click on the screen and see a picture of how the dish is plated, with a step-by-step guide showing how it’s prepared.
Operators benefit when there is greater order accuracy along with timeliness, so that everything’s coming out at the same time. That way, instead of two or three residents at a table of six getting their food five or six minutes before the others, they ensure that everyone’s getting their food at the same time and while it’s still hot.
What advice do you have for the operator of a senior living community who’s looking to uplevel their kitchen technology?
Joffe: Like I said earlier, dining in senior living is more than just a meal. It’s time to socialize and make meaningful memories with the staff and other residents. Implementing technologies such as ConnectSmart helps staff spend more time on the details and empowers operators to make those data-driven decisions to lead to a more profitable and more customer-focused atmosphere.
All in all, automation simplifies processes. It’s not like you’re totally changing the way you’re running the kitchen. But you’re eliminating redundancy, which leads to a better environment for both the staff and the residents.
Finish this statement: “Senior housing dining in 2022 will be the year of…”?
Joffe: The year of innovation. With today’s staffing issues, I think that implementing kitchen technology is one of the easiest ways for operators to support occupancy growth and make their own operations stand out. If you go to any senior living operator’s website, one of the top things they highlight is health, followed by their food program and their dining experience.
With innovation comes change, which can be scary. But at the same time, innovation is necessary in senior living and will help operators stand out and improve their processes and procedures. Without happy staff, you’re not going to have happy residents.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
QSR Automations® is committed to helping senior living operators create the ultimate guest experience. To learn how automation technology can help your kitchen, come see us at DISHED, email Connor Joffe at email@example.com, or visit qsrautomations.com.
The Voices Series is a sponsored content program featuring leading executives discussing trends, topics and more shaping their industry in a question-and-answer format. For more information on Voices, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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