If you’re not moving forward you’re moving backwards. Many changes are taking place in the community of today. Over thirty years ago when I began my career in healthcare food service, I entered the field at the lower end. I recall feeling the sting of being unappreciated for the work that I did. Was I wasting my time, just clocking in and clocking out? I felt as though I was not making a significant impact on anyone, even myself. It was a normal day for nursing homes to have a clinical and sterile dining room where therapeutic diets, calories, and efficiency were the main goals. I believed residents were negatively affected by this attitude. It really struck a chord with me. I wanted to do more even though it wasn’t my job.
I observed the residents and staff interaction. I paid particular attention to their behaviors. I listened. Servers would tell me of their struggles. Residents told me what they expected and did not get. I asked questions about how the system worked and why it worked that way.
Previously I owned restaurants in Alaska. I had the opportunity to cook and to serve my customers. My friendly interaction in a quality atmosphere created an enjoyable dining experience that my customers appreciated so much that they returned. Often. Having that experience in my pocket made me ask myself why we don’t treat and serve our seniors to the same dining standard? How many people enjoy eating in a hospital?
Restaurant managers do a little bit of everything. (This also keeps them knowledgeable about everyone’s responsibilities.) I remember the day I cooked a meal shift and ran to the dining room to see how my customers liked it. This was not a common practice at the time. But I wanted to know their reaction to my efforts. When I did this for the residents in my community they responded to my interest in their opinions. I could see the change in them because, along with nutritional benefits, someone who cooked for them also truly cared! I knew at that moment that it was just a matter of time before the momentum in the dining room would swing a different way.
A light bulb went off in my brain (and my heart). I found my purpose in life! A seed within me. I made a promise to myself that when the time came I would create a hospitality training program that would focus on the dining environment in senior living communities. I aimed at improving staff relationships and residents’ lives. Kind Dining® was born in that moment! It continues to be my joy, helping others wherever they are in the structural hierarchy, to find joy in what they do, to know how much they are appreciated and how important they are to the entire community.
Our B♥ Kind® Tip: You are important to your community; How you serve meals MATTERS!
A friend told me about an acquaintance of hers who was widowed unexpectedly. Her husband had not been ill or shown any sign of the heart seizure that took his life. She was bereft. He took care of all the finances, maintenance of the house, and other responsibilities. She waited a period of time as her friends advised her to do, but had difficulty adjusting to single living. She did learn about paying the bills but was unhappy about the responsibility regarding the upkeep of the house, repairs, or anything else that related to making decisions or hiring craftsmen. After a year, the woman moved to a retirement community.
She didn’t hesitate to ask staff questions but hesitated about going into the dining room. She had not, ever, dined out alone. Her friends met her in restaurants for lunch before shopping and they invited her to their homes for dinner completely unaware of her dilemma. She didn’t cook, so she skipped mealtimes, sometimes eating a sandwich or take-out salad in her apartment. Finally, after discussing it with a staff member who encouraged her, she gathered enough resolution to go to the dining room for lunch. It was much easier than she expected.
A smiling hostess greeted her at the door, recognized her as a newcomer, and led her to a table set for five. It already had three people seated. The hostess introduced her as she pulled out the chair for her. She immediately sensed this caring gesture, nervously smiled at those seated, and waited for them to start a conversation. Which they did making for a pleasant, first-time outing to lunch in the community dining room. All went smoothly after that initial step that was made so much easier by an alert, enlightened hostess who anticipated a newcomer’s sensitivity. The hostess knew how she herself would feel in that woman’s situation. She used the basic message of the Golden Rule and gave service that she would want if their places were reversed.
Her friend found the staff member the next day, related her experience and thanked her for the encouragement she gave. The hostess found the same staff member and thanked her also, recognizing the important role she played in sending the new resident to the dining room. It’s another example of an enlightened teamwork in action.
Our B♥ Kind® Tip: You and your staff have an important role to play in helping residents overcome loneliness, isolation, and building a sense of belonging.
Walk into many elementary school buildings these days and you’ll notice posters and banners advocating being a friend not a bully. It is best and easiest to change negative attitudes early in life, opening the minds of children to show kindness and friendliness. Children’s books are directed to guide them toward these same goals. But what do you do with those of a certain age who behave poorly, when they are living in retirement communities?
The dining room is the most important room in the community for friendliness. At its best, your elders will feel like they are coming into the warmth of their own dining room to share a mealtime with their own friends and guests. The hostess for any fancy gala greets each person as if they were a personal friend, even when she never met them before. She makes them feel wanted, comfortable, letting them know she is delighted that they are present. This is a learned effort that can be applied to training your food servers to have that same quality and attitude. When practiced it will come naturally and benefit every person in the dining room. This means other food servers, kitchen assistants who happen to wander in, staff who clean up afterward, and especially every resident who enters through the doors.
The best servers eye every table to be certain it is set properly. They take a second to pull a chair out for an elder. They watch each resident with gentleness, stepping in to redirect any sense of trouble arising at a table. She will recognize and call residents (and other staff) by name with a smile that tells everyone she is happy to be serving this group. The best part is that she means it!
She will notice when a person enters the dining room for the first time and guide her to a compatible table for her to sit at. She knows this because she is familiar with each face in the dining room. If this doesn’t sound possible, it is with Kind Dining® training. When servers automatically know what to do, how to do it, and when to do it; their minds are free to be pleasant, watchful, and helpful. When the stress of not knowing her responsibilities is removed, your food servers can move forward.
Our B♥ Kind® Tip: Remember, in a room full of people, even a newcomer doesn’t need to feel alone.
A friend of mine told me of a conversation she had recently. She asked her friend what it is about her job that makes her love going to work. The friend replied, “My coworkers are happy to see me and greet me with a hearty Good Morning! What a great way to begin my work day! I know who I am, that I’m important to my company and help to make it successful. I handle my responsibilities with ease and have the confidence that I handle them well. My boss praises me sincerely and I’ve formed friendships. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have off-days. It does mean that when I need help it is offered with a smile and a thought that we all have days that go off.”
She continued, “It’s exciting when a new challenge comes up because the company gives us the training we need to learn what to do and how to do it best. I interact with the public and have met delightful people and learned how to enlighten someone who walks under a dark cloud. It’s an effort sometimes, but I always benefit from helping someone else. It’s amazing how that works.”
My friend thought for certain she had attended one of my training sessions because these are the goals of Kind Dining®. The value of training your food servers, encouraging them in teamwork, and learning to love the job they do is vital to their living a happy life and creating happiness everywhere they go. It is most important for food servers because the dining room is the heart of day for residents. It is more than just eating a meal. They look forward to socializing with other residents and when you have cheerful, caring servers, they look forward to seeing them, too. So it is also vital for your residents who will bask in the same glow as your servers. Ask your residents what makes their mealtimes so pleasant and ask your servers if they are happy to come to work in your community.
Our B♥ Kind® Tip: Remember, you are unique, valuable and worthy of respect, but proceed humbly.
If speaking kindly to plants helps them grow, imagine what speaking kindly to humans can do. A friend saw this sign hanging in a winter garden and knowing how I champion the word and the act of being kind, emailed me immediately. After a generation or two of Me First, Kindness is coming back in style! It has always been important, if forgotten by some, but now is perfect timing to fit the seniors who are entering retired living communities. Their generation (baby boomers) was raised with using good manners and kindness. They expect, no, demand to have their opinions considered in their care. Of course, present residents will also be delighted with the change toward kindness in attitude from everyone at work if it isn’t already there.
The phrases in senior communities of culture change in dining and person-directed care has been a hot topic lately. Culture change begins by using kindness and encompasses placing value, dignity, and respect on older adults. National and public policy symposiums signal a focus on the connection between dining satisfaction of residents and the quality of life within their community. These changes in policy will enable elders to make decisions every day that relate to their normal daily patterns that make their life comfortable. Staff will be required to rework their routines around the habits and desires of the elders.
Kind Dining® training was created with this exact purpose in mind when I noticed this great need in senior communities over the years that I’ve worked in the field. I became determined to bring attention to and to provide the training needed. Surprisingly the end cost to the company in making the necessary changes is only slightly above what they are paying now. They will benefit much more from the improvements also. To make a smooth transition in understanding these new policies and how to encourage staff to want to enlighten themselves takes professional and experienced training. That’s where Kind Dining® steps up to the plate.
Our B♥ Kind® Tip: Is there a new resident in your dining room today? Make an effort to get to know them