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The power of choice

Maris Grove’s new flexible meal plans appeal to every taste

Created date

January 24th, 2012

A new flexible meal plan initiated campus-wide at Maris Grove this January receives rave reviews from residents at Erickson Living s retirement community in Glen Mills, Pa. Maris Grove s four restaurants offer a variety of up to ten dinner entrees, and one meal a day has always been included in residents monthly service package. But now, under the new plan, residents can decide how and when to use those meals.

Options for every taste

The community has established two equally flexible versions of the new plan. The first (version one) provides meal credits for one meal every day of the month that can be used on flexible days and mealtimes. The second (version 2) provides 20 meals per month. People who choose the 20-meal version receive a $60 credit on their monthly service package, an added plus in today s economy. Residents may use their meals at any of Maris Grove s three restaurants and may switch from one version of the plan to the other once a quarter. Maureen Heckler, Maris Grove s executive director, says the flexible plan responds to requests from residents and prospective residents alike. It s all about giving choice, she says. Folks can cook in their apartment home during the week, then use their meal credits for weekend guests or for multiple meals one day for themselves. It s their choice. People like to decide how they lead their lives, says Tara O Sullivan, vice president of operations for Erickson Living. The flexible meal plan allows them to do that. Couples can choose different versions. If a wife follows a special diet, she can select the 20-meal plan and cook for herself some nights. If her husband chooses the other version, they still can eat together because he can request his Maris Grove meal to go. People who frequently enjoy dinner off campus consider the 20-meal version. It also appeals to residents who chose their apartment home for its kitchen amenities but rarely cook because that means foregoing their one meal a day included in the old plan. One woman said it has helped her rediscover her cooking and hosting abilities, says O Sullivan. And now when she and her husband eat at a campus restaurant it seems more special because they re eating out. O Sullivan spearheaded the plan s development and subsequent six-month pilot program last year at Maris Grove and three other Erickson Living communities. She s now overseeing its implementation and evaluation campus-wide at those communities.

The power of choice

So many residents wanted to participate in the pilot program that Maris Grove held a lottery. Eleanor Davis, Walt Copper, and Judy Baldwin were among the winners. Walt serves on the resident advisory committee, and Eleanor chairs it. Eleanor chose version one (one meal credit per day of month). She eats most of her meals on campus but occasionally joins friends for off-campus dining. Using those meal credits to treat her friends at Maris Grove greatly appealed to her. Partners Walt and Judy each chose the 20-meal plan. Often we didn t want a big dinner, he says. Now we have options. O Sullivan credits Heckler and Maris Grove Dining Services Director Joe Guidetti for the pilot program s success. From surveys and interviews to FAQ sheets that guided folks through the process, they maintained strong communication with community members. Pre- and mid-pilot, participants rated three dining-related areas overall dining experience, food quality, and food variety. Dining services made no changes to its operations during the pilot, but midway through, participants scores increased in every category, says O Sullivan. That s the power of choice.

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