During presentations and workshops I teach the importance of speaking positively about the food being served to residents in long-term care communities. This is a point that almost always hits home. Most community leaders and dining staff admit they struggle with this issue. Grousing about the food is so common, it has basically become an unquestioned habit, sometimes even a bonding experience.
One Assisted Living staff member told me, “I eat the food we serve nearly every day. I hear lots of complaining and poor Chef is constantly taking heat, but in my experience, it actually tastes pretty good. I think it is just something for people to belly ache about because they are bored or unhappy about their lives. The food is an easy target.”
Food in Long-Term Care Already Has an Image Problem
It’s no secret most people have negative perceptions about food in retirement residences. Critics have compared food service in care communities with that of schools, prisons, and the military. Consumers assume eating in nursing homes is awful. Even seniors in assisted living and luxurious continuing care communities (CCRCs) have unfavorable impressions of the food.
To be fair, in some communities, menu options are limited and meals can be unappetizing or bland. Food quality may be poor, and many times the focus is on preserving the system and providing nutrition at minimal cost. But many communities have put significant effort into improving the quality of ingredients and preparing tastier dishes, yet still the complaining goes on.
Regardless, staff needs to stop running down the food. This behavior is hurtful to residents.
Residents Need Us to Do Better
When the food is insulted, residents are insulted and their enjoyment of meals is decreased. They may even eat less, which compromises their health. Worse, when family and friends are visiting, it is humiliating for residents to have their guests overhear negative comments about the food.
Often, staff members do not realize griping about the food is rude and hurts residents’ feelings. They start thinking differently when I ask questions like, “How would you feel if someone came to your house and insulted the food?” or “When you are at your grandmother’s house, do you complain about the food? Why not?” Once staff members take a more empathetic view of the situation, it is easier for them to see the negative impact on residents.
Start Speaking in Tasty Terms Today
It costs nothing but higher standards and a change of attitude to improve the food at every meal. When positive language is used to describe food, people are naturally inclined to regard it as tastier. But, leaders need to make this issue a priority. To get started right now:
- Create a policy that prohibits negative comments about the food.
- Explain to all employees they have the power to improve perceptions about the food—and daily life for residents—by simply changing what they say about meals.
- Teach staff how to speak in tasty terms and have everyone practice together.
Take this a step further by encouraging staff to eat the food your community serves, and set a good example by doing so yourself. In addition to demonstrating your support for the dining program, this will put you in a position to learn for yourself where improvements are needed.
About the Author
Cindy Heilman, MS, DTR has over 30 years of experience enhancing hospitality and food service quality. She is CEO of Higher Standards, LLC, author of Hospitality for Boomers: How to attract residents, retain staff, and maximize profitability, and creator of Kind Dining®