By Rebecca Wiessmann 

I recently attended the Senior Dining Association’s Synergy conference in Orlando, Florida. I met some of the most passionate people in senior living, and the conference was filled with great content. But there was one moment in a session that really got me thinking.

A speaker, in a very off-handed way, mentioned that on a regular basis, one out of five food items they ordered never showed up. In a time of strained supply lines, we regular people are no strangers to this. We’ve all been dealing with soaring grocery prices and bare shelves. But that number, in a commercial kitchen, still shocked me. I have no way to verify that number, except that, as I sat there with my eyes wide, I started looking around the room and saw heads nodding in a unison agreement.

One in Five!

One in five is 20%. Think about it like this: What if you only had enough ingredients to make your school-age child four lunches every week instead of five? In other words, they had to go hungry for lunch one day a week. If I was regularly denied a random, unpredictable 20% of what I needed to do my job, I’m not sure what I would do.

I was amazed at how these dining professionals discussed how they had to pivot, often with just a few hours’ notice, to source missing products (imagine if your dining team reported that ground beef was out of stock and didn’t get delivered) or rearrange their menus and their ingredients to feed their residents. I balked at the idea.

So, I love to cook — all my friends and family know this. I have found myself going from store to store trying to find the oddest things (not odd ingredients, just odd because they don’t seem like things that should have supply issues) since the pandemic started. But if I was cooking for several dozen (or several hundred) people, I can’t imagine what I would have done when I couldn’t find wonton wrappers or canned tomatoes.

Grace Under Pressure

As I listened to these passionate food professionals, I was in awe. They turned tacos into taco bowls or lettuce cups without any tortillas; they relied on new proteins in ways that I would never have thought possible. They’ve had to go back-and-forth between in-person dining and delivery (at practically a moment’s notice sometimes).

And I know it’s not just dining services that have to make insane pivots. We have seen amazing things from activities professionals, nurses, frontline caregivers, and maintenance technicians. I just wanted to give a shout-out to the amazing people in dining services that often get more complaints than compliments. Thank you for all you do.

We need to continue to look for ingenuity and creative solutions in all departments and all ranks in our communities.