When Crowley Care in the Northern NSW town of Ballina decided to change the way meals were served to residents, it was a big adjustment for both staff and residents. Yet change, as they say, is as good as a holiday. The new approach has resulted in an improved dining experience, positive social connections and higher intake of food for residents.
Hospitality staff at Crowley Care recognised the dining experience was a key way to deliver a higher standard of customer service. A better dining experience begins with residents being treated as special guests with particular needs, likes and dislikes that can be met with a little flexibility from hospitality staff.
“Customer service is very important for us,” explained Tony Baldwin, Hotel Services Manager, Crowley Care. “Residents choose to live with us, and we see them as ‘the customer’. The customer’s experience matters a great deal. If residents aren’t happy, we need to make changes.”
At Crowley, the investment in the change to a more customer service based model has really paid off for staff satisfaction and a health and happiness increase for residents.
“Everyone has ideas about how to improve food. After all, many of our residents were head Chefs of their own kitchen before they moved here, so they know a thing or two about food and what they like or don’t like.”
“We conduct surveys, listen to residents and families at meetings and work hard to improve where needed. For example, if they want a favourite dish to be available all year round we keep it on the menu.”
“Our hospitality staff now spend more time in the dining room in a customer service role, so residents feel supported at mealtimes and any service issues can be quickly resolved, just like in a restaurant.”
One major improvement Crowley Care initiated following feedback from residents was its breakfast buffet concept. Food is served in a similar way to a hotel buffet, where people go and select their breakfast from a wide array of options. Residents are encouraged to make their own choices, while hospitality staff are on hand, ready and willing to assist in any way they can, such as carrying plates or topping up drinks.
“We decided to change the way we served breakfast about nine years ago and it has been a wonderful improvement. At first, it was hard for some people to see the change as positive but we persisted as we wanted to offer a wide variety of breakfast options to suit everyone’s tastes and morning routines. A buffet-style was the best way to deliver this,” Baldwin said.
Serving food at the optimal temperature is a key measure of success for any Aged Care kitchen. Nothing is worse than stone-cold toast or porridge. The self-serve buffet ensures cereal isn’t soggy and hot food is still warm when residents sit down to eat it.
Crowley residents have found the breakfast buffet gives them more freedom and flexibility.
Rather than a fixed meal time, residents can come into the dining room as early or late as they choose – the staff begin to set up at 5.45am and continue serving through until 9am.
From the viewpoint of food intake, the breakfast buffet innovation delivers great outcomes for residents as well. When offered a wide variety of foods each day, Baldwin noted residents tend to eat more varied choices over the week so their diet is more balanced.
The social outcomes of happier mealtimes are clear to see too. The atmosphere of the central dining room encourages residents to stay longer and chat so warm and friendly relationships naturally develop. Hospitality staff in a customer service role know the residents better, often anticipating their needs and solving problems quickly to make mealtimes more pleasurable.
“The central dining room is a wonderful place to promote socialisation and stimulate conversations at all meals throughout the day,” Baldwin explained.
The onsite Café has also been refurbished to become a popular meeting place for families to relax with residents over a coffee and cake in an inviting café atmosphere.
“Residents love to come together for a chat over a meal and our hospitality staff go the extra mile to make it feel like a special occasion.”