My take on existing concerns in aged care catering. From previous experiences, I have identified following factors that contribute towards success or failure of catering services in aged care.
1. Communication gap
As mentioned in my previous articles, “Communication Gap” between catering staff & management is the main culprit that leads to issues in catering. I am yet to see an aged care facility that has regular meetings between management & site level staff (chefs, kitchen assistants, weekend chefs). Most of the aged cares do have Chef managers / Catering Manager meetings but without rest of the catering staff. These meetings can be a real eye opener or a real game changer for both parties to understand current challenges and find solution that benefits both and in return better services to residents.
2. Lack of knowledge
Lack of knowledge on both levels – Management & Catering staff. Lack of knowledge for catering staff usually involves not knowing better products and systems available in the market. Staff are usually too busy or too inflexible to even consider looking around to see what other resources and support mechanisms are available to improve efficiency. Lack of knowledge on management level is mainly related to not knowing how each aged care catering operates on daily basis. Unless you actually spend a day in kitchen, no reports or surveys or training will provide true or specific outcome.
3. Online training
With most of the training done online, the practicality is taken away. Yes, it provides flexibility & affordability but site-based training can actually resolve or surface many unidentified issues. On site training sessions are a perfect opportunity for staff to ask site specific questions and get expert advise that is applicable to their own facility.
4. Inability to adapt to change
As weird as it may sound but Inability to change is a direct reflection of Communication Gap & Lack of knowledge. Its not very uncommon for us to hear in aged care kitchen that staff do not like change. This is simply because either the management hasn’t succeeded in communicating need and right ways to execute the change or the staff actually doesn’t have knowledge on how this change can benefit them and the residents at the same time.
5. Insufficient hours
As the care models change, the staffing ration and hours need to change. Even a small change of allowing residents to have flexible meal times can impact heavily on kitchen schedule. Introducing new cooking equipment or a new technology, adding another choice on menu…. EVERYTHING impacts the hours and the resources.
6. Budget limitations
A Major factor in deciding dining experience for residents. It is Not necessary to have exclusive cut of meats and premium products in the pantry, but it is imperative to have right products and sufficient products available. Menu needs to be designed according to the residents’ preference & available resources in the kitchen and then allocate budget to meet these requirements. It’s usually the other way around, Budget is allocated & then menu is designed and tried to accommodate residents request.
Ask yourself a simple question
“Menu is changed at least 2 – 4 times a year, how many times in a year, a budget is updated for catering?”
7. Inadequate / incorrect food safety knowledge
This leads to unnecessary paperwork, limits creativity & flexibility. So many menu items are either not included or not executed properly due to inadequate or incorrect interpretation of food safety. In my opinion food safety training should be conducted at the facility with a copy of current menu in hand and most importantly discuss about how to implement food safety at that very facility rather then general rules and regulations about food safety act.
8. One size fit all approach
This is more applicable to aged care providers with multiple locations. Achieving consistency, better admin control, cost effective suppliers agreements etc are necessary but this will limit creating menu that is more personalised for resident at a specific facility. Either the residents get stuck with items on menu that may not be popular or chefs will end up cooking 5 – 6 different options to meet requirements of residents
9. Inadequate & incorrect information
Sometimes, management may not have right information or sufficient information on how things happen at the grass root level. I have witnessed many aged cares where management believes that things are happening in certain ways in catering but that may not be the case. There can be multiple reasons for this to happen but without continuous review of catering services, its very hard to identify this issue. Another aspect to consider is Surveys & feedback. They are very essential for continuous improvement. However, its is also important to ensure that the information is collected and collated in the right form. Making sure to ask right questions to right people will result is a comprehensive & accurate information.
10. Acknowledgement / Appreciation
It is very easy to criticize but its very important to acknowledge & appreciate good work. Appreciation doesn’t really have to be in form of some sort of certificate or a gift card. Just a humble “Pat on the Back” or “Thank You” or “Well Done” will go long way. There is nothing worse than loosing an employee that didn’t feel appreciated or didn’t feel important. With ever changing requirements and food safety and constantly increasing expectations, catering staff must be appreciated for their amazing efforts every day in aged care kitchen.
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