Winning at Dining – Focus on the Fundamentals

A few months back, I heard this story about the legendary Green Bay Packers football coach, Vince Lombardi. The tough, respected leader would begin each training season by standing in front of rookies and seasoned pros, hold up a pigskin and say — "Gentlemen, this is a football."

Wanting to use this example in speech, I ran the idea by my husband, an avid football fan. “If you’re going to reference Lombardi you need to stress that he didn’t just talk about the basics with his players. He had a relentless focus on blocking and tackling drills. He emphasized the value of practice, the importance of execution.”

Our “football” is the hospitality we provide. Ongoing training gives us the chance to emphasize basic service techniques geared for our unique customer base and practice, practice, practice. Developing better dining service in our communities requires focusing on the fundamentals.

Fundamental #1: Residents value hospitality and high quality service.
Hospitality is a culture and has a significant place in the environment of senior care communities where strangers come to live together and work with staff to create a permanent home. In his book Reaching Out, author Henri Nouwen describes hospitality as the fundamental attitude of accepting others and creating a free and friendly space where we can reach out to strangers and invite them to become our friends. Hospitality is at the heart of what brings people together to deepen and broaden relationships.

We express hospitality through our standards of service. Our residents expect and value servers who demonstrate kindness, good manners, and proper serving techniques. Teaching these basics to servers so they understand these expectations and practice the skills together, improves service.

Fundamental #2: Serving meals is a team effort.
If you grew up with regular family mealtimes, you experienced the value and rewards of feeling connected to and helping each other to cook, set the table, and/or do dishes. Or perhaps you played team sports, where passing the ball, making a sacrifice bunt, assisting on a goal, or grabbing a rebound were emphasized for the good of the team and a winning record over personal glory. Many of you have worked in restaurants, hotels, or other segments of the hospitality industry where you learned to value the relationship with the customer, understanding the better the service, the more likely the customer was to return or recommend your establishment to friends.

All servers are equally accountable for making your residents’ mealtime experience pleasant and enjoyable, regardless of their department or position.

Broadening basic service skills to all staff members is a cost effective essential when additional serving support is required. Each person must know the service goal, their role, and the supporting position they play even if they are not serving directly. And each must understand your expectation that they work together for the common good.

Fundamental #3: Learning and practicing together develops team culture.
The presentation and service of meals, although seemingly a simple, straight forward “no brainer”, is complex with subtle nuances. Just as blocking and tackling are basics taught to improve at football, demonstrating kindness, good manners, and proper serving techniques are taught to improve dining service.

Practicing and applying this knowledge consistently and together is what improves performance and garners results. As a team culture develops, other skills begin to gel. Employees demonstrate more focus. Positive attitudes help minimize mistakes and build servers’ confidence. Teammates learn to help out and back up for each other when someone falters, building trust. Participants feel a part of something larger than themselves.

A Winning Team
Lombardi’s football team won five National Football League championships and two Super Bowls. Learning, applying, and practicing new hospitality knowledge and serving skills is an achievable goal and one that will reap benefits for both our residents and staff.

So next time it feels like things are not going right with your meal service, refocus on the fundamentals and rebuild that team culture for service that improves the communities we live and work in.