Sodexo dining partnership brings improved resident satisfaction

"Sodexo not only brought fresh food options and smoother operations, but they have always been willing to go the extra mile for our staff and residents. That has made all the difference." — Matt McNeill Senior Director, Senior Living, StuartCo


The situation 

Dining options in senior living communities are growing to meet the demand for meals with more variety and flavor. Seniors are now looking for chef-prepared dining with expansive, flexible choices such as grab-and-go meals and farm-fresh seasonal menus.  

Today's seniors are savvier about nutritional choices and a wider variety of culinary styles. They deserve to have these high expectations met in the dining experiences they choose within their senior living community. Current social and industry challenges have also accelerated trends in the senior living market. Fast-moving trends include technology usage, housing options, food and grocery delivery and dining choices. 

StuartCo is an award-winning company that manages a number of senior living communities and services. They strive to remain at the forefront of important trends while establishing best-in-class practices in the senior living market. For more than 50 years, StuartCo has responded to seniors' changing needs. Rather than reacting, they proactively address guest preferences to stay competitive in a rapidly growing market.  

With a vision to create forward-thinking dining experiences for residents of their senior communities, StuartCo set about its ambitious and complex task. 


The challenge 

Two of StuartCo's senior communities, Wellington Senior Living Community and Alton Memory Care Center, planned to introduce a new dining approach just as a wave of unexpected and devastating circumstances collided with the launch. StuartCo found itself facing a global pandemic, navigating national food supply chain issues and dealing with protest activities on the streets of Minneapolis.  

Along with the monumental challenges presented by external forces, StuartCo also confronted an internal obstacle: their limited food service options at the time.

"Our previous food service options were not exciting. Our former service relied heavily on frozen and prepared foods in a dining system that gave our staff less flexibility to do what we thought best," said McNeill.

With little control over external circumstances, StuartCo instead chose to focus on finding a way to deliver on heightened expectations for quality dining experiences. 


The solution

After meeting with several dining service companies, StuartCo selected Sodexo. Among other reasons they were the right fit, StuartCo believed Sodexo would serve as a senior living operations team member that offered strong resources, global expertise in senior living and fresh insights to enable StuartCo's strategy. In the end, it was about working with a company that has a strong track record in helping senior communities thrive in a constantly evolving market.  

According to McNeill, "We were looking for a partner to deliver fresh food options and a flexible operating approach to hiring and training staff, gathering resident and staff feedback and bringing creative ideas for marketing our dining services."


Meeting the needs of residents 

Ultimately, StuartCo believed Sodexo was best positioned to deliver an enhanced resident dining experience that would combat the company's increasing competition. At this time, StuartCo manages five senior living properties and, according to recent satisfaction surveys, Sodexo has been a big part of each community's success. Food quality and dining option scores have gone from mediocre to excellent. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, the increases in satisfaction scores reflect even more positively on the improved dining services, including such necessities as meal delivery in cardboard takeaway containers.  

As health restrictions ease, the partnership brings ample opportunities to bring on new menu and delivery options. The Sodexo team involves the entire staff in menu planning and interacting with residents to gather feedback, reduce food waste and find new ways to compete with outside food delivery options. 

Every day, we show residents and the community that our kitchen can deliver healthy foods from scratch that are appealing and attractive on the plate. A good example is the Kitchen Team recently produced an amazing flatbread pizza from scratch that staff couldn't believe came from our kitchen. — Matt McNeill


Improving dining service operations 

Sodexo has helped the StuartCo team quickly adapt to changing their menu planning and operations with a fresh approach, proven ideas from their vast experience across the country and more. In this uniquely challenging time, Sodexo has helped StuartCo manage menu changes, food delivery options, staff training and keeping residents involved, even as the situation continues to evolve day by day. The team had to move fast, but they were also mindful of residents' and employees' needs. 

"StuartCo received significant support from the regional Sodexo team. We never felt alone in what we were trying to do." — Matt McNeill

To support the transition, Sodexo's District Manager Amy Audiffred temporarily resided on-site. She was supported by a mobilization team comprised of an Operations Manager and Executive Chef brought in to jump-start the preparations. This included an inventory audit, menu development and food options testing. The dedicated support team also provided training for the existing staff and new hires, including the new chef who leads the culinary team. 

According to Audiffred, this was a "true partnership." In the context of a pandemic and mandated curfews in the city due to demonstrations, "The team worked through the evenings and even slept in the office due to suspended transportation options." Completing the transition from the prior provider and successfully launching with an outdoor barbecue helped reassure residents and staff – with significant positive impact ongoing. Audiffred said, "Beyond many compliments from residents, staff began ordering meals again, and nursing observed that memory care residents had improved meal consumption and other positive behaviors."

"Considering all the challenges, the Sodexo team was always there to cheer on the staff and go the extra mile to get our new program up and running. Sodexo stepped up in a variety of ways that our previous supplier was never able to deliver on or operationalize." — Matt McNeill


Finding creative ways to promote dining services

Sodexo is partnering with StuartCo to highlight their dining services with new creative ideas. As we move beyond the pandemic, we look forward to continuing to implement these ideas at each StuartCo property, making us an engaging destination for residents and the broader community. 

"The Sodexo district and regional managers continue to bring us marketing ideas from other markets, which are helping StuartCo compete with newer properties in the area and with other food delivery options," said McNeill.


A valued partner

Sodexo takes a hands-on approach with its partners. "This level of support is something that did not exist with our previous supplier," said McNeill. Sodexo understands how to retain and bring on new talent to make a dining room successful. The Sodexo approach quickly creates a high-functioning team that is well trained and understands expectations about PPE usage, interacting with residents and supporting each other.  

Taking a systematic approach to infection prevention and services optimization, the Sodexo team has made it their mission to protect StuartCo's residents, staff and visitors, while delivering reassurance and elevated senior living experiences. It springs from deeply rooted humanistic values and a charge that's carried from the C-suite to the kitchen staff: Put people's interests first. 

"The first night we had a positive COVID-19 case, the corporate chef made sure everyone on staff had a healthy, nutritious meal and was taken care of during this stressful period. You don't often find that level of caring and commitment from [a provider]. Caring for employees is an important part of how we maintain our staff and keep them happy," said McNeill.

Sodexo Seniors' dedication to cultivating a strong, committed team culture focused on caring and empathy is another reason for the strong partnership fit between the two companies. 


The outcome 

Four months into the transition, StuartCo was thrilled to be experiencing improved food quality, enhanced staff retention and higher resident satisfaction with its new menu items and food delivery options.  

The StuartCo team is excited about the future of its partnership with Sodexo. The team feels that if they can improve results under these challenging conditions, the opportunities that lie ahead are limitless. Sodexo has brought scale, proven processes and tools to improve operational efficiency, and data that provides transparency into the performance of StuartCo's operations. 

"The Sodexo team has risen to every task and challenge to help make our job easier. They continue to jump in and roll up their sleeves to care for our staff and residents. On our worst day, the Sodexo team picked up on the staff's stress level and decided to pull together a last-minute barbecue. The Sodexo team's goal was to be sure every staff member was fed and sent home with a meal. We would have never gotten this level of support from our previous dining provider."