Nurse Decides to Pour Coffee: How Small Acts Make a Big Difference

“Employees are happiest when they're trying to achieve goals that are difficult but not out of reach.” --Daniel Gilbert, Author of Stumbling on Happiness

I was so moved by a nurse in my last Kind Dining®-Bringing Warmth to the Table training, I gave her a round of applause. I offer this training to staff and providers at senior living communities nationwide. On Monday, the nurse was adamant that, “There was no way (she) could see how (she) and her staff would be able to help serve at the evening meal.”

On Tuesday, we actually had some fun for a few hours: We talked through the serving steps, practiced them together, and discussed how socializing around the meal often moves people to get along better.

On Wednesday, as we talked through the value of individual initiative, the nurse volunteered her own story. At the evening meal the night before, she chose to pour coffee and water for the residents. The serving staff was so genuinely appreciative; the nurse was overwhelmed by their graciousness and continued gratitude for her help. She was amazed by their reaction, as well as the residents’ acknowledgement. She committed to continue helping in the dining room.

If we are not intrinsically motivated to improve the dining experience in senior living, the new Quality Indicator Survey (QIS) process in nursing homes will be an impetus. This federally mandated process will make providers accountable for relationship and service quality in a whole new way. Because the principles behind it have proven to enhance residents’ quality of life, I believe it will soon broaden its reach throughout all senior housing options. It is not an easy process to realize that our job responsibilities are changing, and that new tasks require new skills. However, learning to provide better service in the dining environment is a skill most people can master.

Providing true hospitality is an opportunity for staff to feel respected and empowered. Getting to that place is a process of change that feels vulnerable. Such change requires developing our best behavior, making an effort to demonstrate good manners and kindness to others (primarily co-workers, and of course residents). Honing relationship skills is not a practice that has been readily embraced in the nursing home environment, until now.

It is a pleasure to witness staff, like the nurse mentioned above, who internalize and connect to the difference their attitudes and actions make. When staff appreciate their role as servers, they can quickly see the improvements in their residents’ quality of life. Embracing hospitality is good for staff, good for their co-workers, and the research shows it is good for the company too.

Kind Dining®-Bringing Warmth to the Table is a 9-module training series designed to transform and elevate the dining experience in senior living communities. These training sessions foster closer relationships by honoring residents, valuing servers and respecting the quality of the dining experience. For further information, visit our website at, or contact Cindy Heilman MS, DTR at [email protected] or at 503-913-1978.