While dining programs in senior living communities have seen less reduction in meal counts than most other segments—most reductions have come from no longer serving meals to guests and visitors who now are mostly barred from the premises—they have also seen a profound change in how meals are served and may face the most challenging balancing act of all once the coronavirus crisis passes.
That challenge: How to provide a meal service that meets not just the nutritional but also the psychological needs of their customers. During the coronavirus shutdown period, many senior living facilities closed their congregate dining venues and went to meal delivery. That protected seniors by minimizing the risk of infection, but at the cost of socialization with each other as well as with staff and guests.
How and how quickly that approach is modified will be a key issue for senior dining programs. Seating in dining rooms could certainly be spaced out and staff interaction with customers minimized. It’s not perfect but better than leaving residents isolated.
As in hospitals, visitor policies will impact dining programs. Some facilities may begin allowing visitors in individual dwellings but not in communal spaces such as dining rooms even if those are open to residents. Undoubtedly, there will be a range of policies depending on the facility and its individual circumstances.
Senior living facilities, along with hospitals, are also the most likely to continue strict, enhanced hygiene, sanitation and contamination prevention measures, perhaps including routine temperature checks of associates and stricter rules on not coming to work if feeling ill. That may require additional staff redundancy and standby workers for a segment that was already having some trouble with staff recruitment, though that may change with the recent sudden unemployment rise.
This is part six of an eight-part series on the future of onsite operations following the COVID-19 pandemic. The first part is on the impact of salad bar; the second is on the impact of colleges; the third is on the impact in hospitals; the fourth part is on the impact to school nutrition programs; and the fifth part on the impact to B&I.