I confess I have always assumed that when a senior housing community used a contract dining service it was because, they were foolish, lazy or incompetent.   

It only seemed logical and reasonable that bringing in an outside contractor had to add significant cost and provide minimal benefits.   

I think I have it wrong!  

Over the last couple of weeks I have had several discussions with executives at Unidine about how and why they believe contract dining services makes sense for a lot of senior communities.  Every time we talked, they started by gently pointing out that every major healthcare system in the country uses contract dining services rather than doing it themselves . . . and that every healthcare system in the country utilizes contract services of some sort for efficiency and cost control.

The Quality Factor

This part I could get . . . sort of . . . I could envision how a senior community might, end up with a better dining experience; fresher foods, more variety, better looking and tasting meals.  The question that still lingered, was ok  . . . maybe so . . . but at what cost?  

 At What Price

In talking with Chad Bellville, the national  director of business development for senior housing, his simple statement is that when they engage with a senior community about partnering with Unidine their goal is to create a cost neutral program that will provide a significantly better dining experience for residents and their families. They achieve cost savings in two primary areas, food costs and staffing efficiencies.  In addition with some communities there are also opportunities to improve revenue streams generated by the dining program and employee meal programs

Fresh Food

At the heart of the Unidine program is the concept that fresh foods are better than prepackaged foods.  This means pastries and rolls and breads are made fresh.  That meats and produce are purchased fresh from local vendors.  Prepackaged preprocessed foods are banished from the kitchen.  It makes sense that when a community purchases prepackaged, preprocessed foods the dining program pays a price for that convenience.  That cost typically includes higher prices for the food itself or lower quality (unfortunately to often this one).  This is just a tiny sample of what convenience costs:

  • Whole celery is $.46 a pound, diced celery is $1.85 a pound.
  • Whole onions are $.50 per pound, diced onions $1.09 per pound.
  • Top inside round of beef $2.24 per pound, diced beef $4.20 per pound.

On top of this, the fresh foods approach, allows the dining team to reduce waste.  They are able to take cuttings from the whole products and use those cuttings to create stocks for soups and sauces. Finally by taking advantage of fresh herbs they are able to all but eliminate chemical flavor enhancers.  Most importantly, the fresh food approach provides more flavor and better nutrition.  


You may think you are running a lean machine for your food service and maybe you are.  For all that in most cases, Unidine can find savings even though they are doing more of their own food preparation.  As a serious bonus, they become responsible for the hiring and management of your entire dining staff.  

Revenue Enhancement

One of the biggest win win things a senior housing community can do is create a dining experience that is so high quality that people living in the community will treat the dining service as a freestanding restaurant, coming in for lunch, dinner or special events.  This approach does not work for every senior community but it can both provide another marketing tool and generate extra income to the community.

While contract dining is not a fit for every community, I am convinced that it should be explored.   

You can explore what Unidine does HERE.  

Your Feedback How are you doing it now?  Have you tried a contract service, what was your experience?   Steve Moran