A la Carte Service in Aged Care

Probably the most talked about and most desired goal in aged care sector today. Is it really possible to achieve restaurant style A la Carte service in aged care?

I would say “MAY BE**” (** – Subject to following criteria addressed)

I have been thinking about holding a dinner night at one of the aged care with the vision of providing a restaurant style dining experience for residents including ambiance, waiting staff, menu choices, POS system (with aged care specific features), utensils & crockery, serving standards & presentation. One thing is for sure that providing such experience once a month or twice a month is easily achievable and many aged cares are already doing it. The real task is to offer same services on daily basis.

In my opinion, it is not hard to create such experience for residents. Purchasing crockeries, few equipment, staff uniform, staff training, POS systems is all doable with reasonable resource allocations.

The real challenge is Rostering (Increased Hours – May be), Menu design, Texture Modified meals, facility layout (dining room layout and serveries), limited cooking appliances in each servery, and most of all, ongoing COST.

Let’s try and work on 50 bed facility / 50-seater restaurant

Roster: In a 50 seats restaurant on a busy night, its very common to have at least 3 -4 waiting staff and 2 – 3 chefs / cooks and a kitchen hand. At the moment in 50 bed facility, most probably there will be 1 chef, 1 cook (sandwich / salad maker) and 1 kitchen hand. Right here, we have 50% increase in labour (twice a day, Lunch & Dinner), not to mention the care staff need to be available in dining room as well. How many organisations can afford to restructure the budget to meet the A la Carte service on regular basis. Who is responsible for the extra cost, Organisation or Residents / Families or in some instance, catering contractors (to charge back as an extra service).

Menu Design: As mentioned in my previous article about “Aged Care Menu Design”, menu designing is a challenge already due to dietitians’ requirements, families input and also texture modification. Currently, most aged cares provide 2 hot meal choices at lunch with pretty much same vegetables / accompaniments for each dish. Sandwiches and salads are offered in some places as 3rd and 4th choice. When we cater for A la Carte menu, we are looking at minimum 4 – 5 hot meal choices with appropriate sides for each dish. Cooking these items on order will require the labour in the kitchen as mentioned in prior. Also, another question is how often to change the menu choices as well. This leads to a whole new task of different procurement practice. Ordering, pantry staples, stock rotation etc will need to be addressed.

Texture Modified Meals: If all residents are offered 4 -5 hot choices on order then why not texture modified meals as well. If so then how can we prepare texture modified meals on order. Even if you offer only 2 hot choices for texture modified menu, you still need to consider how to actually produce those meals there and then.

Facility Layout:  In a way, it is worth trialling A la Carte service in a small to medium size facility where there is one kitchen with servery and dinning room attached. However, all new aged care facilities are multilevel facilities or spread on a large area with multiple serveries and dining rooms. Many items on the A la Carte menu are supposed to be cooked, served and consumed straight away. With large facilities, where food needs to be sent to serveries in bulk and dish up at individual kitchenettes, this is one area that I am struggling to find answer for (Your opinions / suggestions are welcome)

Ongoing Cost:  A standard breakfast (toast, egg, bacon, baked beans etc) and a cup of coffee costs around $20.00 per person in a café / Restaurant. $20.00 or just over that will be the budget for each resident for the whole day (6 services per day) in aged care. Everything comes with cost. The question is, are the organisations prepared to spend that extra cost!!

Looking at the above-mentioned concerns, it may seem like a huge job and financially challenging. However, I still believe that with detailed planning, research and careful execution, A la Carte services can be achieved.

The positive side of providing such service is

  1. Great dining experience for residents
  2. Residents more likely to enjoy their meals and overall enhance their experience in aged care
  3. More freshly cooked and nutritionally balanced meals
  4. Streamlined procurement
  5. Less wastage due to meals cooked to order
  6. A great addition to “Customer Service” provided by aged care organisations
  7. Reduced consumption of sustagens and supplements
  8. Positive feedback from families and relatives
  9. Able to create variety of menu choices to cater for clients from various background and culture

I would be very keen to discuss this in detail and actually try and implement A la Carte Service in an aged care facility. Anyone who is interested, please feel free to contact me.

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Written by Chirag Joshi Founder & owner of HDS.

Chirag Joshi is the founder & owner of HDS. Chirag possesses over 12 years of experience in Aged Care industry. Having worked as an aged care chef for a long time he understands the complexity & challenges to maintain residents diet profile, food safety records, food labelling, procurement invoicing procedures & staff rostering. Chirag has also completed a Bachelor in Computing with major in multimedia & system design. He has developed number of systems to help provide efficiency in aged care and also help eliminate paperwork and manual processes.

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