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By: Ken Rubin is chief culinary officer at Rouxbe @ www.mcknightsseniorliving.com

Food is such a huge part of our lives, from playing a role in our daily routines to creating lasting memories. Meals are a time to connect with others, to reminisce and to nourish the body.

When someone moves into a senior living community, the dining experience, as well as food service quality, ultimately can affect comfort levels and long-term happiness. Providing food that everyone loves can be incredibly difficult for several reasons, however.

Although pleasing everyone all the time never is going to be possible, senior living dining currently faces two major issues, according to a recent study by Unidine in collaboration with LeadingAge.

The first relates to workforce instability and high staff turnover rates at senior living communities. As in many industries, senior living is facing a cook shortage and needs to attract, train and retain employees.

What’s one of the best ways to do this? Offer them additional training within the industry.

According to 2018 Senior Living Labor & Workforce Trends from Argentum, more than 50% of cooks in senior living centers are 34 years or younger. These individuals have long careers ahead of them, and the more skills they can obtain, the better off they will be. Senior living communities can use this extra training as both a recruiting tool and a retention tool.

The second issue is that the expectations and tastes of the next generation are always changing. We know more about food than ever before; our palates have expanded to include creative and international cuisines, and we care more deeply about the quality and types of food we are putting into our bodies. As baby boomers start transitioning into senior living, their expectations are higher than they’ve ever been.

Training cooks, from the top down, with the foundational skills in creating great food is imperative to the success of a senior living community’s dining experience. And without a well- trained staff, great food is impossible.

Although it may seem that high expectations and high turnover are unrelated, this couldn’t be further from reality. Without consistent staff, food quality suffers, as organizations are constantly having to train new individuals to ensure that their skills are up to par. This is a significant investment in time from culinary leaders, time that is taken away from other areas such as exploring new menu options, creating more efficient processes and vetting requests from residents.

Technology, however, is making it possible to streamline solutions to some of these key issues. By offering culinary training online, senior living dining services can attract new talent and help staff improve their skills and advance their careers. By eliminating the need to be hands-on at all times, digital solutions offer affordable, scalable and inventive options in providing an ongoing engagement opportunity for staff that leads to greater job satisfaction and higher retention.

There is no doubt that we all want to eat great food, made by people who are invested in their culinary careers. This means attracting the right employees and training them to ensure that their standards are at, or above, the expectations of residents.