Skip navigation
Rockwood-Retirement-dor-to-door-cart-meal-service.jpg Rockwood Retirement Communities
The meal carts make their rounds three times a day, stopping on every floor.

Cart-based meal service feeds and engages senior residents at Rockwood Retirement Communities

Mobile meal carts that incorporate hot food steam wells visit residents three times a day to serve meals at Rockwood Retirement Communities.

Meal service at Rockwood Retirement Communities in Spokane, Wash., had already included a mobile cart service even before the coronavirus crisis hit, and now it is not just a safe, effective and customer-pleasing way to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner daily but also a non-intrusive way for the staff to keep tabs on residents to make sure they are OK.

Rockwood had ended its traditional tray line model of meal preparation about a year and a half ago in favor of using SuzyQ carts, which incorporate steamtables and other sophisticated accessories to provide comprehensive mobile meal service. At that time, the community, which also has independent living residents in individual homes, operated a number of restaurants and cafes on its grounds, so the cart service was simply an additional meal option.

When the coronavirus hit forcing Rockwood to shutter its dining establishments, the decision was made to accelerate the cart service for all residents except those living in individual independent living homes by using the carts to provide three meals a day every day.

Rockwood-Retirement-custom-meal-cart.jpgPhoto: The fully stocked meal carts offer customization and fresh preparation for each resident.

Photo credit: Rockwood Retirement Communities

The six carts have been assigned to the various buildings across the campus and serve the three-week cycle menu from the facility’s health center, which offers two entrée options at each meal. They are accompanied by a unit with beverages and coffee service, and in the evening a bar cart with beer, wine, liquor and mixers.

“They go up the elevator and start at the top, going apartment to apartment offering hot food options,” explains Michelle Duke, director of food services. “The residents stay in their apartments and get the menu a week ahead of time, so they know what’s coming.”

Those with special requests, especially those with food allergies such as gluten intolerance, work with the staff dietitian and get special orders that are sent up with the carts. Residents use their meal plan credits to pay for what they order (except alcoholic beverages, which must be paid for separately).

“Those carts have saved us,” Duke offers, “because our campus sprawls so wide that I really don’t know how we could have done it otherwise.”

Another advantage the use of the carts as an almost universal meal platform is that it allows the staff to keep an eye on residents without being intrusive, Duke notes.

“While we’re up there three times a day, we’re also kind of seeing what’s happening with them, whether their mobility is good enough to get to the door, for example, and we’ve actually had some good catches we were able to pass along,” she says. “Residents also tell us this is the highlight of their day because they get to see people three times a day, and our staff is pretty animated. They make the meals fun and interactive.”

The carts generally complete their trips through their assigned building in about an hour or so, Duke says. The one exception is the Ridge building, where two carts are deployed, one starting at the bottom and the other at the top of the multi-floor facility.

“The reason we have two carts in that building is that the second and third floors are assisted living where we have dining rooms and we try to get some folks who we’ve noticed a decline in to socialize,” Duke explains. Nurses place their orders for them at the cart and bring it to them in the dining room.

The residents living in the individual homes don’t get the cart service and are in fact considered visitors who are not allowed into the multi-tenant buildings. What they do get, however, is a grocery delivery service, an idea Duke came up with after visiting a grocery store early in the coronavirus period and finding some things unavailable.

Rockwood-Retirement-refrigerated-pantry.jpgPhoto: Temperature controlled storage space in the unused events center kitchen allows Rockwood to order perishables for residents to order and get delivered.

Photo credit: Rockwood Retirement Communities

“We pulled the trigger on that right away,” she explains. “We have a fairly large event center kitchen with refrigeration and freezer space from which we’re not doing catering right now, so we started ordering supplies [and stocking them in the event center kitchen], and then created a spreadsheet from which folks can order and we actually deliver door to door out in the estates.” The options include both foodstuffs and household goods like paper towels, toilet paper and jugs of distilled water.

Independent living residents who live in apartments in multi-tenant facilities on the grounds get both the cart meal service and the deliveries, a great convenience since any venture off grounds to go shopping entails residents having to check back in and get their temperature taken before they’re allowed to return.

Consequently, “most are partaking in the meal program we’re providing,” Duke says. “We’ve been watching the meal plan usage and it has gone up exponentially since the beginning of this. Folks that would normally consume one meal a day and maybe cook in their apartments [the rest of the time] are taking all three meals, participating in the bar car and feeling safe and secure here.”

The carts generally can make their runs without replenishment, especially at breakfast and lunch, Duke notes, but if restocking becomes necessary, a call to managers remaining in the kitchen will bring any extras required.

“At dinnertime, sometimes when we know the entrée is really really popular, we travel with a hot thermal box with backup food, so they can just reload those carts on the fly,” she adds.

Rockwood-Retirement-bar-cart.jpgPhoto: A bar cart with full alcohol service accompanies the dinner meal cart.

Photo credit: Rockwood Retirement Communities

In late May, Rockwood added another meal option by opening its onsite restaurants for takeout delivery service, “so now we’re serving filet mignons and all the stuff people have been missing this whole time,” Duke offers. “We’ve got a huge call sheet and we’re taking like 10 orders per half hour throughout the entire day. They can call between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. and get delivery within that 12 hours [including] breakfast all day, so they’re pretty happy with that and that’ll buy us the rest of the time until our restaurants can get opened up at limited capacity.”

To get the restaurant delivery meals to the various homes around the estate, the dining department got the grounds crew to loan them a couple of their golf carts, each equipped with insulated boxes to maintain temperature integrity.

Meanwhile, those receiving the meal cart service now have the additional option of also ordering from the restaurants and having it delivered.

“We are giving them two menus to choose from at this point,” Duke explains. “Even if they order from the restaurant, they can still poke their head out and have the dessert or the beverage [from the cart], so they can order a pizza from the restaurant and get their glass of wine at dinner.”

TAGS: Coronavirus
Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.