Talking and Listening Are the Main Ingredients for Good Dining

Talking and Listening Are the Main Ingredients for Good Dining

Kim Delgado, CDAL
Executive Director
Eskaton Lodge Granite Bay

Dining and culinary have always been one of the most important parts of community life for residents—and for executive directors, too. The pandemic and its changes to daily life and routines had a particular impact on dining, as well. Certified Director of Assisted Living Kim Delgado shared insights and learnings during a recent email interview.

Q. How have you found that dining changed during the pandemic?
A. Dining has changed in several ways throughout the pandemic. When the world shut down, assisted living communities were no exception. All the residents were isolating in their apartments and were eating food off disposable dishes to limit cross contamination.

Once the residents could start eating in the dining room, they were required to still be six feet apart, which caused even more frustrations for the ones with hearing impairments.

They were also required to dine in “pods” of 10 or fewer, and to not cross from floor to floor in this multi-level community. This left them missing their friends that lived on different floors.

The happiest day for our residents was when they could eat at a table with their friends and get back to that “normal” of pre-pandemic dining experience. They didn’t care about not having tablecloths or cloth napkins, as long as they could socialize with their friends.

Q. What changes do you think will last?
A. The dining changes that I think will continue going forward are with regard to sanitizing—both sanitizing of hands before entering the dining room and disinfecting of tables and chairs after each meal.

While this often was done pre-pandemic, the level of detail and focus is higher now than ever before. Our residents like to sit and eat with their friends at “their” table for each meal. In effect, this continues the “pod” practice of dining in small groups.

Q. Do you have any tips or advice to increase retention and/or recruiting in dining services?
A. Retention and hiring of dining services took a major hit during the pandemic, just as the care teams did.
Our biggest success for hiring dining staff was through advertising at the local high schools. We are fortunate to have several local high schools within a close proximity to our community.

We made flyers with QR codes and worked with the school councilors to post open positions. students scanned the QR code, it took them directly to our website to apply.

Being students, they usually want to work two to three days a week, which filled the harder dinner shifts. They have been some of the most hardworking and dedicated team members.

It also creates and fosters the intergenerational engagement that Eskaton wants its residents to take part in. There is something special when an 87-year-old talks, laughs, and connects with a 17-year-old.

Q. Resident feedback is a big part of dining programs. Do you have anything you can share on good ways to do this?
A. We have several ways of addressing resident feedback. Residents are encouraged to speak openly at resident council meetings each month. Our intention is to listen, understand and problem solve any concerns or questions at that time.

If one person has the question, then we feel more do as well, and the others may not feel OK with speaking up in front of the group. It also allows for the response to be in the council minutes, so that everyone is receiving the same information.

We also have a suggestion and comment box off the lobby. Our residents know the box is locked and only two people have the key. This ensures comments and/or concerns are kept private but can be addressed or resolved.

Also, residents, families, and staff know my door is almost always open—and if it’s closed, it’s a private meeting. They know my goal is to make them happy and at home when they live at Eskaton Lodge Granite Bay. Most of the time, people just want to be heard, even if their problem can’t be solved. Just talking about it and coming to terms
makes them feel better about the situation.

Q. What are your top pieces of advice or guidance to executive directors about dining?
A. Remember that complaints tend to be mainly about dining and activities. These are the times when residents come together and socialize. If one person says they don’t like the meal of the day, others will agree, and a perceived problem now exists. Talk with your residents; spend time in the dining room during meals to address concerns or issues quickly. If someone doesn’t like the current meal, they can always choose another item. Being there to listen and talk things through alleviates almost any problem.