Restaurant-Style Dining Among Hot Food Trends in Skilled Nursing

Skilled nursing facilities and their food service providers across the country are embracing a more hospitable approach to dining. Though it was once commonplace for meals to occur at set times and include pre-portioned, pre-packaged options, more and more SNF operators are letting residents weigh in on what — and when — they eat.

The restaurant-style dining trend is by no means a new one for other parts of the senior care industry. At some upscale CCRCs, assisted living and independent living communities, for instance, mealtimes have become more lavish affairs with made-to-order menus, locally sourced ingredients and even dinners with wine pairings.

In skilled nursing it’s a little tougher to go high-end, however. Some SNF residents have dietary restrictions or medical conditions that change what and how they eat. For those residents, five-course meals just won’t do.

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Still, some providers are taking a more hospitality-focused approach to dining when possible.

Choices, choices, choices

Morrison Community Living, a food service contract management company that works with over 350 senior living communities in 42 states, is going big on choice and nutrition for skilled nursing residents.

A subsidiary of foodservice and support services company Compass Group, Morrison is no stranger to putting food first. Each year, the company puts on a quirky event called Food Fight to give senior living chefs the opportunity to network and innovate.

A typical skilled nursing menu from Morrison might offer not just one but several nutritious options to choose from. And long gone are the days when a skilled nursing operator might dole out milk and crackers as a snack: residents can sate their hunger with a sandwich, soup, or hot oatmeal.

Morrison is also working on letting more residents choose when, not just what, they want to eat. The idea is for residents to drop in when they’re hungry and leave when they’re done eating.

“Instead of having them select the menu two or three days ahead, we really would like to have a restaurant style where you let the residents order at the point of service,” Jessica Shyu, Morrison’s senior director of nutrition and wellness, tells Skilled Nursing News.

The end goal is for a SNF dining room to function the same way a restaurant might.

“We are really going in for restaurant-style or bistro-style dining,” Shyu says. “It’s like Panera bread. Come in, order something, eat it, and leave.”

Part of Morrison’s thinking around choices is informed by the food, nutrition and dining portion of the New Long-Term Care Requirements set in place by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) last year. Those rules mandate that skilled nursing operators must provide more than one nutritious, palatable meal option, among other requirements.

“Regulation has made everybody change the way they are serving their seniors,” she adds. “Everything has become a more person-centered care approach.”

Like Morrison, the senior living arm of global food services giant Sodexo also sees its future in more choices.

“There is a general evolution in dining to cater to individual resident needs, desires, and choices,” Joe Cuticelli, CEO of Sodexo Seniors North America said in a statement to Skilled Nursing News. “Operators are trying to leverage new dining venues as a competitive advantage especially in the short term rehab space. I see this evolution continuing, and Sodexo’s focus is on ways we can help our clients drive occupancy through an innovative partnership approach focusing on Quality of Life.”

Restaurant-style dining is all the rage

One SNF operator that is placing more emphasis on restaurant-style dining is Tutera Senior Living & Health Care. The company is based in Kansas City, Mo., and currently operates 51 communities in 11 states — many of those SNFs or CCRCs.

In 2015, Tutera unveiled a philosophy called Younite, which aimed at creating and implementing ways to meet residents’ needs and preferences. That includes feeding them well, says Randy Bloom, Tutera’s president and COO.

“The restaurant-style dining component to our operation is linked very closely with the overall philosophy of care at Tutera,” Bloom tells Skilled Nursing News.

As part of that philosophy, the operator overhauled its dining program by adding higher-end fare to the menu, such as steak or shrimp.

“We would go to each facility and say…what kinds of things would you like to see on the menu?” Bloom says.

The switch to better ingredients hasn’t cost much in the long run, however. Steak and shrimp aren’t purchased as often as staple foods. Plus, much of the cuisine is now made to order, meaning there’s less waste than before, Bloom says.

“It started out costing more, certainly, but it was just about adjusting to a new way of doing things. It eventually ended up leveling off,” he adds.

Though Tutera uses a third-party food service company to handle dining at the majority of its SNFs, it works closely with that company to tailor those programs.

The SNF dining redesign didn’t stop with the food itself. As some other operators have done, Tutera also worked to remodel or update many of its SNFs to have less of a medical look and feel, Bloom says.

Design changes have included dimmer lighting, wood plank vinyl paneling, rich textures, and ceiling height modifications.

Tutera also separated the look and feel of its short-term and long-term stay facilities. In some of the company’s facilities, short-term rehab residents have their own dining area and even their own menu with heart-healthy items such as salad or fish.

Long-term residents can still also order off of the that menu, Bloom says. The idea is to make things feel more specialized.

Written by Tim Regan

(Photo courtesy of Morrison Community Living)

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