It comes as no surprise that dining and menu choices can be a deciding factor for older adults researching housing options. For those who enjoy good food and expect it every day, how does a retirement community meet and surpass those expectations?

At Watermark communities, we use a combination of resident choice, creativity and committed dining associates to pique and please our prospective and current residents. During Healthcare Food Service Week, let me share some ideas with you.

Welcome suggestions

If your community is looking to revamp its menu, look no further than the residents in the dining room. Direct input and suggestions on menu items can be a major factor in creating an enjoyable dining experience unique to your community. By setting up a suggestion box, initiating a resident dining council or holding monthly “menu meetings,” dining services can host conversations with residents to discuss nutrition, food choice and dining trends.

Explore all dining rooms

Remember, despite new menus and specials, residents generally will dine in the same venue every day with the same tables, walls and people. Try to find an exciting niche with demonstration classes or action stations where residents can watch the carving, select contents of their stir fry or order unique items such as escargot with a walnut sauce or Vietnamese shrimp spring rolls.

It is becoming more commonplace for a community to offer different restaurant-style venues or bistros. Make your dining room, café, pub or lounge stand out with an evolving menu that matches its distinct setting.

Stick with resident favorites

Residents who share their ideas and suggestions with our dining teams have jumpstarted some of the most popular dining options. Daily vegetarian dishes, such as a sweet chili-glazed tofu, and simple comfort foods we call “plain Jane” specials, such as a simple baked cod made with seafood stock and lemon, have become menu standards.

Nutrition often is at the forefront of these conversations, with residents frequently requesting gluten-free, sugar-free or heart-healthy dishes, as well as the inclusion of whole grains and fresh produce. Listen to their suggestions and craft a menu that is nutritious, delicious and hitting the mark with customer satisfaction.

Make providing feedback convenient

Residents should be provided with convenient opportunities to voice their opinions and desires. This opens a line of communication that empowers Watermark’s dining associates to provide the best culinary experience possible. An added benefit is the cultivation of personal and professional relationships, where residents and associates can learn from and get to know one another. We have seen that when associates are committed to improving residents’ lives, they will go above and beyond to ensure a memorable meal every time.

Communities striving for an exciting dining experience need look no further than the dining room itself. When it comes to pleasing the crowd and delighting each individual, resident input may be the key ingredient. Start the conversation and a successful collaboration will follow.

Jim Bain is the first regional director of dining services for Watermark Retirement Communities. Before being promoted to this multi-community resource position, he served for 25 years as the dining services director of The Watermark at East Hill in Southbury, CT. Bain also founded a larger community initiative that creates intergenerational opportunities between residents and Boy Scout troops from surrounding area. 

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