Food for Thought: The Choice is Yours
Posted on January 30, 2015 by Taylor Rhea
Think about your favorite comfort foods – that homemade apple pie recipe your mother passed down, or the spaghetti and meatballs with the special sauce that has just the right amount of tang and spice.
Atria residents want to enjoy their favorite foods while also receiving a variety of choices. That’s why we create choice-focused programs for our residents.
A splendid example of this is Atria’s Food for Thought program. Food for Thought includes a monthly meeting where we invite residents to give their feedback and share ideas for Atria’s menu and dining options.
Frank Adams, Director of Culinary Services at Atria Hacienda in Palm Desert, CA, told us how the program works:
Q: On average, how many residents attend your Food for Thought meetings?
A: Our Food for Thought meetings take place monthly and used to consist of 12 people. But when our Restaurant Coordinator, Usbaldo Martinez, was promoted to Restaurant Manager, he decided to open the meeting to all residents. Now, attendance can range from 15 to 25 residents, so at one point we had to hold the meeting in our movie theater.
Q: Why do you think it’s important to get feedback, ideas and recipes from residents?
A: First and foremost, it’s all about them and the choices and variety of foods they want. It’s important to get their feedback on previous menus and find out what they liked or disliked so we can modify dishes in the future. Our residents’ ideas and recipes are always welcome because they have the lifelong knowledge and experience; many used to do all the cooking for their families.
We also invite our residents to create one of their favorite dishes with a cook. For example, one of our residents shared her recipe for baked apples and helped make the dessert for lunch, which we then served in our restaurant. And in our last Food For Thought meeting, another resident asked us to hold a baking competition, so we’re adding that to the Engage Life® calendar.
Another of Usbaldo’s ideas is to ask residents to help with training our restaurant staff. For instance, after a new server has been trained for three or four days, they serve two tables of Food for Thought participants in our semi-private dining room. At the end of the meal, those residents give feedback on the server’s performance to help them learn and improve. It’s a great opportunity for residents who want to be involved in their community.
Q: Why do you think it’s important to give residents the opportunity to make special requests?
A: Let’s say you’re craving a certain side dish or way of preparing an entrée. Most restaurants are willing to cater to your requests. It’s no different here at Atria Hacienda. It’s our residents’ meals, so they are more than welcome to substitute and modify ingredients or preparations to satisfy their expectations. Another reason we accommodate special requests is to ensure our residents enjoy a healthy meal, especially in the case of dietary restrictions.
Q: What was the most unique or memorable special request you received from a resident?
A: Our residents – just like us all – have varying palates, and often crave foods that aren’t ordinary to another person. One request, made by Shirley and Abe M., was for help in hosting a Thanksgiving Eve dinner, which had been their long-standing tradition. They didn’t want this year to be different so Usbaldo sat with Shirley to coordinate the event, menu, etc. Everything went perfectly, and the couple still raves about the event.
Another memorable story involved a Merit Gram submitted by one of our residents. In it, he explained that he was already having the worst day – it was early morning – and on top of that, he was starving. He told the server his request may be somewhat strange, but it was exactly what he wanted. The server replied that his request was “not strange, just unique.” So the resident went ahead and ordered eggs over easy served on top of blueberry pancakes with blueberries scattered over the eggs. After finishing his meal, he claimed to be “in heaven” and was content his request was actually accommodated.
Q: Do you try to keep up with new trends or stick with familiar comfort food? How do you encourage residents to try new items?
A: We always try to feature a variety of foods, and our residents, for the most part, enjoy new and different trends in food preparation because they are so food-oriented. We always want our residents to know they are dining in a restaurant, even if that restaurant is located in a senior living community. We strive to have demos, farmers’ markets, lectures – we held a lecture on gluten-free foods – and seasonal menus, allowing our residents to keep food in mind.
During one such event Usbaldo did a baking demonstration for residents in Assisted Living, Independent Living and Life Guidance, making and decorating cake pops. This was something new, and the residents had a great time as he explained it was basically cake on a stick.
Q: What is your favorite culinary event that your community has thrown?
A: One of our most popular events continues to be “Global Cuisine.” Every month, we take our residents on a virtual trip to a different country and have them experience that country’s cuisine.
Usbaldo gives the background of each dish and an explanation why those dishes are popular in each country. As of today, Usbaldo has “taken” residents to Mexico, China (twice by popular demand) and Italy; next month, they’re off to Greece.
Another favorite event is our “Annual Holiday Gala,” where he features an ice carving, champagne welcome station, mini bar, full cocktail lounge, two buffet stations, entertainment, hors d’oeuvres and formal dress code for wait staff. More than 350 people attended in 2014.
Q: Why do you think food satisfaction is important to someone moving to assisted living?
A: In assisted living, our residents often fall into a daily routine. Food, however, becomes their form of escape. Food is always changing: the flavors, the texture, the smell, and the comfort from various dishes. This makes every meal an exciting time of day because residents can relive a favorite dish, anticipate dinner on Thursday, etc. Our residents show extraordinary enthusiasm as they wait for the weekly menu to arrive. They look forward to seeing what will be available in the week to come. The satisfaction they receive from our food is crucial because we want to ensure they have a healthy meal that’s also delicious.
Q: Quality is important to Atria. How do you ensure a quality dining experience at your community?
A: Quality is always addressed during our pre-meal stand-up meeting. We have different activities for the staff to participate in to ensure they know the correct preparation of our meals. Our cooks attend to address any questions the wait staff has and to show proper presentation for each meal. Our restaurant coordinators also check the restaurant to be sure every table, place setting, private dining room, semi-private dining room and salad bar are presentable. Every day, we strive to have an idea created in stand-up that enhances the quality of food, service and atmosphere.
Q: How does your team create a pleasant dining atmosphere? Lighting, flowers, etc.?
A: Our culinary team strives to make every day special and pleasant for our residents. Room ambiance is most important, as it represents the overall experience for our residents. Our team is always friendly and approachable to our staff. We rotate flowers every Friday to brighten up the room. We play music throughout lunch and dinner. And Usbaldo decorates every month with whatever theme is most timely: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. This includes tablecloths, napkin folds and room décor.
In short, we want each dining room to look and feel like a restaurant. We make sure everything is set up perfectly, is clean and presentable. The aroma of food lets our residents know some serious cooking is taking place! Our wait staff is attentive, from the start of each meal to its conclusion. Every culinary staff member is tasked with making every resident and their guests feel welcome and part of the Atria family. We strive to meet every culinary request.
Q: What is the best compliment your culinary department has received?
A: As of today, it would have to be two compliments: one being the friendliness and accommodation of our staff, and the second, all the different events we plan throughout the year.