3 Questions You Need to Ask about Your Dining Service

Have you been intrigued by the studies showing there is a strong business case for improving service in the dining room? Are you aware of the importance of dining to residents and committed to making changes to meet their expectations?picture001

Well done. Fostering genuine hospitality during meals is one of the most important things you can do to build a positive reputation for your community and meet resident-centered care goals.

Wondering where to start? Begin with an honest assessment. Stop, look and listen. Monitor breakfast, lunch and dinner in all dining areas, plus any snack times daily. While observing, answer these critical questions:

1. What does good service feel like to you? Do you think residents or their Boomer children feel the same?

What level of service do you expect when you eat out? Is your staff delivering service that would meet your expectations? What do you imagine residents or their family members are thinking when they watch your staff serve meals? They are well aware of how much they pay to live in your community; does your dining service demonstrate they are receiving good value for their money? Are mealtimes reaffirming residents’ choice to live in your community or damaging your relationship with the people you serve?

2. What do your residents value?

In 2003, I performed a study of resident service priorities for dining in long-term care. I learned when describing what leads to mealtime satisfaction, residents see three things as important:

•      Servers should demonstrate courtesy and a positive attitude
•      Servers should have adequate social skills
•      Servers should use proper serving techniques

Significantly, the same study revealed staff members tend to feel pressured to complete their job tasks with little time or regard for a positive attitude or courtesy; in fact, most servers did not realize that residents anticipate being served.

Clearly there is a gap between resident and staff expectations in many communities. How is your organization doing in these areas?

3. How smoothly do your dining servers interact with residents? With one another?

Is your staff creating a warm, welcoming ambiance in the dining room? Are meals social times, full of lively conversation and friendly bonding? Do servers work as a team, or tend to bicker with each other and take a “that’s not my job” attitude? Are they empathetic with residents and co-workers or hurried and stressed?

Your goal is to gather enough information to allow you to analyze what is working and what isn’t in your community, so personally observe what is going on, but don’t stop there.


Ask residents to share their impressions of your dining service. Then ask residents’ family members. Ask staff the same question. You may want to create a survey of your residents and employees, or create a focus group of people in your organization who are passionate about improving service. Bring in a third-party if needed.

When you have gathered enough information, the strengths and weaknesses of your dining program will be obvious. You will have a clear picture of where to focus your improvement efforts and what changes need to be made to put residents’ needs first.

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® curriculum, her unique program that improves serving staff in senior living communities. She’s active in Oregon’s culture change coalition, has been recognized as Oregon’s Dietetic Technician of the Year, and received the American Dietetic Association (ADA) National Award for Excellence in Dietetic Technology. She speaks, trains, and consults nationally on raising service standards in senior living communities.