Creating a great dining experience starts with your strategy

Chasm functional stakeholders waste constraints

Change to the meal service is too often reactive. A dining experience strategy that begins with the end in mind better meets stakeholders needs and keeps residents and their family happy.
With aged care and health constantly under the spotlight, is meeting compliance good enough?
Newspapers and social media trumpet increasing instances where there is public outcry, even though “the perpetrators” have complied with “the rules”. Former Health Minister Sussan Ley won’t be remembered for her achievements as a Minister.  Have you responded to a suggestion/complaint on meal services with little more than an assurance of compliance with appropriate standards?
The residential aged care regulatory framework is intended to ensure residents receive a minimum required level of care. Accreditation Audits test whether the 4 principle Standards and 44 expected outcomes are complied with. Facilities must also have an audited Food Safety Program.
The compliance framework is important.  But is it enough?  Where does customer-centred care sit with compliance?
The “residential experience” is promoted and described by aged care providers in their marketing as recognising needs, choice, values, freedom, independence, fulfilment.  In the dining room, the “dining experience” may be promoted as a linen tablecloth, fancy menus, sparkling silver, white crockery, buffet breakfast bar, multiple hot choices and an Executive Chef beautifully preparing exquisite meals.
However the daily reality can be very different – thoughts of an unannounced visit, frazzled staff and management, high waste, higher costs, a temperamental chef, conflicting information (whiteboard, diary, paper notes, memory, best guess, frequent changes) and a murdered meal by the time it gets to the resident.  This is despite the good intention to provide a positive “dining experience”.

Interest in the dining experience has increased significantly in residential aged care in recent times. Providers see the benefit in enhanced reputation, premium branding, high occupancy, happy residents, a location of choice and motivated staff. 
Confusion in where to start and what to do in improving the ‘dining experience’ can lead to reaction and change in what seemed to be obvious dining room initiatives.  But is that what the residents want?
You see the dining experience is all about the resident – person-centred, customer centric care – and what is often the most important times of their day.  This means putting the resident at the centre of the picture and agreeing decisions from their perspective.  You know this. It has been bandied about for several years and you are talking about it.
The historical focus on compliance is driving a wedge – a chasm – between what you deem you have to do and what your residents would like you to do.  It is time to consider both in your strategy.
Functional Stakeholders
In this chasm are “functional stakeholders” who can support or thwart your efforts at putting your residents at the centre of the dining experience.  I have counted over 45 types of stakeholders.  How many constrain or thwart your efforts to improve the dining experience?
For example,
Mary wants soft cooked eggs but the Health Department recommends otherwise.
Residents want to eat when they feel like it – Finance says labour costs are too high so you serve tea at 5pm.
You want to reduce plate waste –auditors demand defined portion sizes.
Fred loves a pie for tea – his family are horrified about the cr*p food you serve.
How many of the 45 plus stakeholders do you consider in your dining experience strategy?
Without a strategic approach, where you consider a variety of options and think through the stakeholder impact, you risk ending up with unintended consequences where the solution causes more problems than the original problem.

The dining experience strategy ice cream

Another layer of complexity in the dining experience strategy are physical and non-physical constraints which divert you from a customer-centric approach. Non-physical can be ‘we have always done it this way’. Physical can be poor use of equipment which leads to an unnecessarily long ‘hot hold’ time and a poor quality meal.

Some examples:
Residents want to participate in cooking – too risky to comply with food safety.
You want flexible meal times – the Enterprise Agreement means extra evening penalty costs.
The kitchen wants to buy local produce – supplier contracts wont allow you to order off-list.
You try new recipes – some residents don’t want that fancy stuff.
You provide initiatives in your memory support wing – and don’t make them available to other residents.
Residents love ice cream in a cone – there is no time to individually serve them.
The 30 plus constraints I have counted can severely impact dining experience intentions.  Constraints are being managed by strategic providers who are creating a positive dining experience. What constraints prevent your outcome?

What is your meal service strategy?
If you are you looking to revitalise your meal service, consider:
What strategic outcome you want? A good meal, great dining experience, happy residents, great ambience,  to pass accreditation, reduce risk, future proof your organisation, a home of choice.

Why change? Upgrade, falling occupancy, competition, complaints, new manager, increasing complexity.

Who is most important?  The resident, family, registered nurses, doctors, board, finance, media, other staff.

When will you change?  When you have the budget, time, support from the top, after a crisis, now – bring it on.

What will be different?  Dignified risk, resident choice, independence, quality outcome, consistency across brand, risk reduction, cost reduction.

How –   incremental, transformational, insource, outsource, cook fresh, cook chill, small, large, cottage, collaborative, forced.                

A positive dining experience and consistent meal quality makes a major contribution to marketing, sales and occupancy.  Realise your opportunity cost. Drive occupancy and positive resident feedback through a strategic dining experience that delivers quality meals in an ambient setting at optimum cost.  That’s what residents will value.

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