How to Consciously Combine Dining Services with Resident Programming

Dining Services Intersect

How to Consciously Combine Dining Services with Resident Programming

My mom lives in a beautiful assisted living community in northern Idaho, and when I visit her, I stay in her spacious apartment. At times, I’ll set up my office there and work for a week at a time—which means I am living her existence.

She’s getting up, getting dressed and going to the same dining room three times a day. She’s frugal. So despite me encouraging her to dine out with me or to cook in her room, she’ll say, “Why would I do that? I pay to eat here!”

Her community is using a cycle menu, and the chef’s not switching things up, so she’s able to predict exactly what’s going to be for lunch and dinner each day. And it happens over, and over, and over…

It’s painful as she rolls her eyes and says, “Oh God. Not this again.”

What if you took some of your resident programming budget and combined it with your dining budget? How powerful would it be to focus each week on some changes? Variety is the spice of life after all.

There are countless ways to combine resident programming with your dining program to create joy and delight for everyone. Here are six ideas.

  1. Question of the Day. Place a question on the dining tables every day—a good question that will give residents an inspiration to talk. For example:
    • What was your favorite subject in high school?
    • How old were you when you got married?
    • If you could have a super power like flying, X-ray vision, being invisible or super human strength, which would you choose and why?

There are countless questions from serious to silly.

  1. Meal of the World. Once a week prepare a meal from around the globe and include information about it on the table. Or offer a program that diners can sign up to attend and then listen to while they dine, for example, the history of pasta making.
  2. Captain’s Table. Once a month, offer the Captain’s Table when a special guest from the community dines at the “long table” with residents. Invite the mayor, city council members, a local writer or artist. Serve a multicourse meal.
  3. Resident Participation. Buy fresh peas or snap beans and invite volunteers who want to help pod or snap them.
  4. Resident Recipe Sharing. Invite residents to submit their favorite recipes to the kitchen. Once a week serve a resident’s dish.
  5. Offer tastings of wines, beers and nonalcoholic foods like tomatoes, peaches, apples, cheeses. You might focus on locally sourced foods for this.
  6. Table Roulette. Put a number on each table, then have residents pick a number out of a hat. That is their table number for the meal. This gives people a way to mix without the discomfort of having to ask to sit with others. Plus, it adds the element of chance!
  7. Art Objects. Change the dining centerpiece by placing a new piece of art or objects on the tables weekly. Examples might be cool-looking rocks, crystals, statues—they don’t have to be expensive, just interesting.
  8. Intriguing Quotes. Add fun quotes to your menus and change them frequently. (I can’t tell you how awful it is to see a vinyl-covered “anytime” menu that never changes.)
  9. Chef’s Table. Set up a table near the kitchen and invite residents to sign up to dine with the chef.

As we age, life can narrow down to what’s to eat three times a day. This is why we as service providers are responsible for making sure the dining experience is not only healthy but engaging and connecting.

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