Could driving down your food budget to meet benchmark cost you more?

Benchmark cost of food aged care nursing homesAccording to a national benchmarking company, the average food cost for their benchmarked residential aged care facilities was $6.08 per resident per DAY. 
The impact of striving to reach an external  food cost benchmark could  be very risky for managers, chefs and dietitians struggling to produce a nutritious, varied, appealing menu.  It must meet regulatory standards, satisfy residents and an increasingly judgemental family (and a 30-year difference in perspective to their parent).  While cost is being driven down, expectations are rising, with demands and promises of a “dining experience” for all residents.
When presenting at a conference recently, I suggested providers start with their meal service strategy to help determine what type of dining experience to strive for.  I see extremes from those offering a 6-star service with a $2 million+ RAD, to “give em the basics – they’re not that flash around here”.  The 6-star facility would be benchmarking against a super premium group of like-minded facilities.  The cheap and not particularly cheerful will be looking to see how far below benchmark they can go.  “Dining experience” does not come into their conversation.

I mentioned during my presentation that I have counted up to 45 people/groups/bodies/departments who impact on the meal service.  How many of these 45 functional stakeholders do you ignore even though they may (unintentionally) thwart the dining experience outcome?  Do you know who the 45 stakeholders are? 

Do you go for a Chef beautifully preparing exquisite meals and starched linen table cloths at the expense of a better cut of beef?  Do you offer 2 hot choices, but still “murder the meal” due to inefficient processes? 

Finding the hidden cost of scrimping on food is imperative but can be challenging as it can sit across a number of cost centres.  Reducing waste from pantry to plate is critical. Malnutrition is a serious issue so every bite counts. Poor food options hamper dietitians’ ability to improve outcomes. 
I am currently exploring a formula that takes in the whole cost of reducing the food budget. Kind of similar to the “whole of life” cost for say a building. By purchasing cheap carpet, for example, it may save you $$ initially, but cost more over the building life in maintenance, cleaning and replacement.
By spending less on food,  it may result in more tummy issues and medication, higher incontinence with associated products, skin degradation, hospital visits, extra care hours to attend an unwell resident, wash them slowly and carefully, change clothing and bedding more frequently, calm their distress, attend their overnight calls when they are not sleeping peacefully.
Could spending another $2-3 or even more on food per day actually reduce costs in other areas so there is no net increase in expenditure?

I recently visited a progressive facility in Brisbane, where there has been a total revamp of every dining room.  The emphasis has flipped from an institutional look and feel to self empowerment and capability of the residents – even in the dementia and very high care areas. Each dining area has a fridge, freezer and cabinets of tasty food and treats where residents can help themselves to nourishing snacks day and night.  There is a wide array of hot and cold drinks available all hours, presented in such a way to be accessible, inviting and fun.  The place is humming! Staff love the environment, they have a glow and inner purpose. Residents are settled, happy, friendly and rave about their day.  The journey wasn’t easy, and multiple setbacks were overcome with creative thinking. The resulting satisfaction? Priceless!
While delighting the Finance Manager and perhaps shareholders, meeting an external benchmark on food cost can have unintended consequences that are catastrophic for the resident, distressing for family, stressful for managers, frustrating for chefs and soul-destroying for everyone. 

I say it is time to look at the bigger picture.

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