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While this is vital for maximizing the safety of residents, it can also disrupt the efficiency of the dining dynamic and compromise the quality and appeal of meals being served.
Luckily, as senior living operators adapt to face this challenge, there are a number of convenient and creative solutions available. One area of note is in respect to food packaging. A seemingly straightforward aspect of meal service, there are a surprising number of options and features worth considering. Let’s take a look at these considerations through three lenses: safety of the experience, integrity of the food and hospitality of the operator.
Safety of the Experience
There are multiple ways staff can use to-go container features to show they’re being careful and considerate every step of the way.
One way is to add a tamper-proof seal or sticker to each closed container, assuring residents that their meal has not been disturbed since it was prepared.
It’s important to remember that hot items like soup should be sealed in a strong, secure container with a tight, vented lid. There is a range of container options that feature a snapping lid, which makes it easy for staff members to know when the container is good to go.
Another smart precaution is to let residents take their containers from a tray or cart. Placing individual containers on a surface for residents adds an unnecessary point of contact during the transaction, which we recommend avoiding when possible.
Integrity of the Food
Since food delivery introduces multiple factors that can degrade the meal experience compared to dining on-premise, it is advised to choose containers that work hard to preserve each dish’s quality.
Although many mains and sides are best served hot, there is such a thing as “too hot.” Choosing vented containers that can also withstand food temperatures up to 200°F will ensure the containers don’t swell or burst. It’s also worth noting that a strong, vented lid-locking system will help meals stay hot and tasty without getting soggy.
Additionally, it is recommended that containers are microwave safe for instances when residents will be heating up meals themselves.
If using paper containers, options with a poly coating generally offer added strength and insulation properties. This helps to keep dishes closer to their intended serving temperatures.
Hospitality of the Operation
Believe it or not, container selections can have a large impact on the perceived hospitality of the operation. In many ways, the to-go packaging contributes to the “brand” of your foodservice team.
Little things like choosing sustainable containers and cutlery will get noticed by residents and offer a more desirable dining experience.
Another small decision that can make a big difference is utilizing clear containers or lids. This helps residents “eat with their eyes” first and see their meal right away, rather than spend time figuring out which items are in which containers. Operators can also note each container’s contents with a sticker or marking. There are even packaging brands that make to-go containers with a small chalkboard panel for operators looking to offer a handcrafted look and feel.
It’s also important for operators to pay close attention to the sizes of containers they stock, especially as this relates to what’s on the menu. Not only will this prevent dishes from becoming unappealing by “spreading out” in an oversized container, but operators should also keep a variety of sizes on hand for menu adjustments.
Last but not least, senior living operators can and should lean on their trusted industry partners for additional solutions and support. A great place to start is the #openfortakeout social channel.
Here’s to all the hard-working senior living operators out there who are finding new ways to offer comfort and happiness through delightful meals.