Is your dining service providing you a positive ROI?

Water’s Edge is a full service senior living (independent living, assisted living, memory care) community in Lake Wales, Florida (East of Tampa) that was founded in 2009.  They have a history of using a contract dining service, understanding that it made more sense to use an expert rather than take a home grown approach.

The Problem

After a period of things going okay, the dining program began to deteriorate.  Residents became unhappy, started telling their friends and family members about their complaints,  to the extent that it was negatively impacting new move-ins.  I recently interviewed Water’s Edge executive chef, Matthew Gamwell, about how they fixed the problem.

Finding the Right Solution

Once they had made the decision to make a change they had two choices, hire their own chef or change providers.  The original desire to have a professional food service company remained, but they wanted to have more control and transparency over the dining services. This is why Strategic Dining Services (SDS) became their top choice.

Changing It Up

When SDS began their partnership with the community they brought in an interim corporate executive chef to implement an immediate turn-around.  Over a 4 month period they went through close to 75 candidates looking for the perfect fit.  During that time they moved from canned and pre-prepared low quality and expensive foods to fresh and local food.  They worked with residents and staff to address specific problems and develop the right menus.   What Matthew particularly likes about the SDS approach is that they substantially lighten his administrative load, allowing him to concentrate on training staff and creating great meal experiences. The other thing SDS did was to create a custom tailored dining program that aligned with the community culture and the customs and preferences.  This included creating their own signature salad dressing called Orange Shallot Vinaigrette.  This one creative act has made Water’s Edge really stand out.  Residents and families can purchase the dressing to give to families and friends.  The marketing department gives bottles to prospects.

The Approach

The thing that makes SDS particularly unique is that all team members continue to work directly for the senior community. This provides three unique benefits:

  • With all the staff on the same payroll it becomes much easier to create a single cohesive team with the same priorities and the same values. It also means no conflicting loyalties.
  • It eliminates the profit margin that gets tacked on to a traditional food service contract where the food service team works for the contractor.
  • It means that food costs are transparent to the senior living community management which means better control and having the ability to more accurately understand where food service dollars are being spent.
  • Most importantly it makes the dining service company more accountable.  Beyond bringing up the quality of food, SDS is contractually obligated to meet the dining budget. This is good for all parties because it means SDS has to bring their best game to the table every month, reestablishing their value.
  • SDS is not a systems company. They spend time with the staff, training, developing and teaching them the skill sets that make the sustainable difference.  Systems alone do not solve issues.

The Results

The change resulted in at least three huge benefits:

  • Occupancy went up more than 10%, which was the biggest and most critical issue the community was facing.
  • Resident satisfaction increased dramatically.  Matthew told me that they have a 98% resident satisfaction rate for the dining program, something almost unheard of.
  • In this particular community the dining program is one of the better eating out options in the community. Their visitor income today ranges from $600-$900 per month and they are exploring opening to the public as a way to increase revenues and deepen their connection with the marketplace.

Both Water’s Edge and Strategic Dining are extremely proud of their signature salad dressing.  

They have made available 25 bottles to be given away to the first 25 people who fill out the form below.

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    Steve Moran

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