Q&A with the Director of Dining Services: The Benefits of In-House Food Service

In the spring of this year, Solvere Living, the sister company of Solutions Advisors appointed Joseph Geiser as Director of Dining Services and he brings an extensive background in senior living industry food service management, as well as corporate and non-profit organizations. Based in our Princeton, NJ office, he is a Certified Dietary Manager and Certified Food Protection Professional and oversees all aspects of culinary services for Solvere-managed communities across the country. He supervises menu development, nutritional guidelines, hiring and training food service directors, establishing budgets and ensuring that the dining experience across all communities delivers a high standard of customer service.

The idea of bringing the food service function in-house is a concept that is frequently considered across senior housing for several reasons, some of them more obvious than others, so we wanted to do a Q & A with Joe to get his expert opinion and share his professional insights on the topic:

Q: Why is it important for a community to consider bringing the food service function in-house?

A: Well there are many reasons, and many of them as you can imagine are financially-based. On the one hand, outsourcing to a third party initially seems like it would make a lot of sense to not have the community manage the additional expense and overhead. Your vendor handles all of that for you, but with that comes some potential downsides: The fact of the matter is, the fees are substantial, so eliminating those, and the markups on food, services and special event fees is a huge benefit to the bottom line of the community. Also, the community gains control of the budget once this function is brought in-house. We never have to question whether the vendor has our best interests at heart as we’ve now taken over that role, and the final decisions are ours.

Then there is the issue of “chain of command” so to speak. Once food service is brought in-house the staff now works for the community and not the vendor. The General Manager is ultimately in charge and there is an increased level of accountability of both staff and management that improves in this scenario. We’ve found that there is a sense of team and loyalty with the in-house staff working harder to exceed resident expectations.

Q: What changes would a Director of Dining Services make to improve the product and service?

A: I think first and foremost is to enhance and improve operational standards. That includes the variety and quality of the food that we offer. Training. Making sure that the entire team is fully and adequately trained and ensuring that learning and training opportunities are ongoing. I mentioned budgetary impact earlier, so putting an expense management system in place is a very important step. Department of Health Compliance is very important as well, so we want to make sure that everything we’re doing is documented and meets government, state and local, health standards.

And this final one isn’t about regulations or compliance but about the experience. We’re instituting a dress code for our Service Director and chefs. They always will be wearing a chef’s coat and hat, complete with an accent scarf so that the entire experience of dining with us is elevated. When a member of our culinary team is out on the floor serving or visiting with residents, we want it to be a high-end experience and we want the residents to know who to approach when they have questions or comments.

Q: Could you please comment on what things you think are important in the resident’s dining experience?

A: Sure, there are 4 key ones that I can think of:

Nutrition: I can’t emphasize enough how crucial a resident’s diet is for them to maintain a healthy and vibrant life in our community. We focus a lot of our attention on the nutritional dimension.

Environment: And by that we mean ambiance and feel. A professional appearance and attitude from the staff is non-negotiable. It must be the standard. And our dining room has to be a showpiece at all times. There is a disproportionate amount of a resident’s time spent in our dining areas, so the experience has to be exemplary – every time.

Choice: Menu variety has to flex based on frequent resident feedback

Social: There are no two ways about it. The dining areas are social gathering places. Residents interact with each other (and the staff) long before and long after meal time, so we must be in tune to the important social element this represents in their daily lives.