Have you ever thought about what makes the simple act of eating enjoyable? It’s something that Joe Geiser, Solvere’s Vice President of Dining Services, thinks about every day. To Joe, there’s more to dining than just delivering a plate of hot, nutritious food three times a day.
“It’s not just whether the food tastes good, it’s how it looks, how it’s presented, and how it’s received by residents,” says Joe. “It could be something as simple making sure a fresh lemon wedge accompanies a Seafood entrée. The goal is to pay attention to the little things that add up to a great dining experience.”
Joe came on board two years ago when Solvere Living was just bringing dining programs in-house, as opposed to contracting with a third-party provider. According to Joe, bringing food service in-house not only saved money, it also increased accountability of both staff and management and has imbued a sense of teamwork and loyalty, with the in-house staff working harder to exceed resident expectations.
But saving money doesn’t mean going cheap, it’s managing expenses and spending dollars where it matters most, on food quality, variety and team members.
“When we hire our food service managers, we not only look for technical skills and how they relate to customers. How do they interact with residents? Can they handle criticism? Do they have the imagination to go beyond the routine, to make senior living dining a first-class experience?” To ensure resident interaction, the dining directors (wearing a clean white chef coat) are required to visit with residents during service times so they can socialize and gauge feedback on their dining experiences.
All Solvere communities are under Joe’s supervision and they all prepare food from scratch. When possible, fruits and vegetables are obtained locally through Solvere’s Farm to Table program. Another signature program, Travel Times, features the cuisine and customs of different countries. Decorations reflect that country’s theme and special dishes are prepared for residents to sample a diverse range of culinary cultures.
“Our Chef’s Table program features carving stations that residents always look forward to. We have a display cooking program and occasionally feature a made-to-order omelet bar or perhaps a pasta bar with a flaming vodka sauce. We even have a Bow-Wow Biscuit program where we make dog biscuits with all-natural ingredients for residents’ pets, and we keep some at the front desk for visiting pets too.”
Each community has a signature beverage and a signature “take away” baked good that is available for touring prospects. The dining director creates these based on the community location and they are changed seasonally.
Have a conversation with Joe about what’s important and the word dignity pops up time and time again. Regardless of your station in life or any medical conditions you might have, Joe believes each resident deserves to dine with dignity. All Solvere dining room servers wear uniforms with name badges and are encouraged to learn a resident’s personal preferences. They are trained to be courteous and respectful to residents at all times.
He also cites Solvere’s Valeo Bites program as an example of dining with dignity.
“Valeo Bites is a finger-food friendly program designed for memory care residents who may not be comfortable using cutlery or having someone cut their food for them. We prepare food in small, manageable bites they can pick up with their fingers. And that’s ok.”
Another example of respect for each resident is All-Day Dining. At Solvere communities, dining rooms are open from 7 am to 7 pm. “If you’re not in the habit of getting up early for breakfast, we’ll serve you breakfast at 10 am or 2 pm,” says Joe. “Residents don’t have to rush back from an appointment for fear of missing lunch or dinner. If you want an omelet at 3:00 or a sandwich at 7:00 we can do that.”
COVID-19 has been a challenge that has also brought out the best in people. Team members have come together and used their imaginations to make in-room dining pleasant and even fun for residents. Snack carts, happy hour drink carts and surprise door desserts have helped residents connect while staying at home and has brought back some of the social atmosphere people missed.
“Dining is a social gathering with a lot of interaction between residents and team members. We can’t wait to get back to ‘normal’ – whatever that looks like.”