nurse helping man eat outside

Senior living dining has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic began in the United States. With these communities being one of the hardest-hit groups, staff and residents have had to work together to make sure everyone is staying safe and healthy. 

Right now, it’s impossible to create a social experience where residents gather and chat over a meal in your dining room like they used to. Dining teams have had to completely change the way they do things because seniors are at high-risk for more severe illnesses like COVID-19. And while these measures seem temporary, things most likely won’t go back to normal instantly when the pandemic is actually over. Below, learn more about the four senior living dining trends we think are here to stay post-coronavirus 

What Does Dining Look Like Right Now? 

First, let’s dive into how dining has changed at senior living communities since the pandemic began. Residents aren’t sitting down for a meal with each other and interacting with their servers. Food service options like buffets and self-serve salad bars have been paused, and they probably aren’t going to be back in action anytime soon.  

As the CDC recommends, residents’ meals are being delivered to their rooms in all of CSG’s communities. In addition to dining rooms being closed, CSG has also implemented limited-contact tray cart delivery methods to improve infection control measuresThese measures improve the safety of our residents and our staff; however, it does mean our staff have significantly less interaction with the residents.  

The CDC also recommends that as an alternative to traditional communal dining, communities should consider creating grab-and-go options for residents or staggering mealtimes to accommodate social distancing (by having one person per table). Many communities have come up with creative solutions.  One community in Washington had a mobile cart food delivery service well before COVID-19. Now, they use that mobile cart to deliver food to almost all of their residents. The carts offer two entrée options, as well as coffee and other beverages.  

Just because residents aren’t eating together doesn’t mean all social interaction has to stop. There can be some creative socialization during meal deliveries. At some communities, chefs have found ways to engage with residents remotely through cooking demonstrations and sharing recipes on streaming platforms, like Facebook Live. The Culinary Services Group staff have been including flowers and positivity cards on meal trays to let residents know we are thinking of them. We’re also partnering with activities coordinators to implement theme-based snack passes and participating in spirit days to help keep resident morale upbeat.   

Some dining teams have also had to find new roles for their staff, like servers and front-of-house employees. Foodservice Directors have had to practice agility in managing through food and supply shortages and the potential for significant staffing issues. Many communities have had to consider altering menus due to these changes. At Culinary Services Group, we’ve also stopped accepting resident feedback via touch-screen tablets located in communal dining spaces. Now we’re sending comment cards with meals or visiting residents one-on-one to collect feedback.  

Four Post-Coronavirus Dining Trends  

As we mentioned above, things aren’t going to go back to normal quickly in your dining rooms once this is over. Here are four trends that are most likely here to stay:   

1. Changes to Community Dining Spaces  

When restrictions are lifted, seniors will probably be eager to start socializing with family and others in the community. Many will be excited to break bread with a table full of fellow residents. Many CSG communities are already planning for how to welcome residents back to the dining room with limited capacity, careful seating plans, and staggered mealtimes to ensure resident safety and allow for much-needed socialization opportunities.   

2. Flexibility 

With the multiple dining options offered during the pandemic, like grab-and-go and meal carts, residents may not want to go back to regular, structured mealtimes. Several may enjoy this newfound flexibility and empowerment over when, where, and how they eat.  

For some communities, the first step on the path back to “normal” is opening up new outdoor dining areas for residents. One facility in Michigan will be converting a patio to an outdoor dining space and cooking everything on an outdoor grill so staff doesn’t have to keep running back and forth to the kitchen.   

3. Increased Sanitation  

Another trend that is here to stay is sanitation. Yes, your team has always been mindful about cleaning, but COVID-19 has forced many to implement new practices, like more frequent cleanings, masks, air purifiers, and hand washing stations.   

Keeping these practices in place for months to come will make your residents and staff feel much safer as things go back to normal. It’s wise to continue to follow increased infection control sanitation policies until there’s a guaranteed zero risk to the community.   

4. New Layouts 

Some senior living communities are laid out more like hospitals, with many rooms having two or more residents. Before the pandemic, a few communities were already going against this norm and making the change to have more private areas for residents, like mini households with a smaller number of people and staff.  According to the New York Times, about 10-15% of nursing homes in the United States are set up like this, and this approach may help with controlling outbreaks because private rooms can be closed off easier. Now, more communities around the country are already working on constructing these private areas for residents in the future.   

What’s Next? 

The impact of the COVID-19 outbreak will be felt for the foreseeable future. The CDC recommends that assisted living facilities refer to guidance from state and local officials when making decisions about relaxing restrictions and refer to the CMS Phasing Guidelines when considering a shift in restrictions.  

Culinary Services Group has helped communities across the country adjust their dining service plans to make mealtime safer for staff and residents. We’ll also be there to help our communities define and thrive in their new normal.    

If you would like to learn more about how we can help your community during these uncertain times, feel free to contact us here 

Culinary Services Group

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