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Visions of culinary excellence

New dining director sees creativity, innovation, flexibility at Seabrook

Created date

April 23rd, 2014
Mary Beth Sheehan started her new role as Seabrook’s director of dining services Feb. 1. She says table touches, like this one, provide insight and relationships needed to improve the community’s culinary program. “Plus, it’s just great to get to know all
Mary Beth Sheehan started her new role as Seabrook

With more than 30 years of dietetics and food service behind her, Mary Beth Sheehan looks forward to many more years of innovation and creativity in the industry. 

As the new director of dining services at Erickson Living community in Tinton Falls, N.J., Sheehan has a clear vision for not only accomplishing Erickson Living’s corporate goals of culinary excellence but also for accomplishing her own. 

“Erickson Living’s vision across the board is to bring more attention to our culinary team and make that a differentiator for us in the marketplace,” Sheehan says. “And I want the same thing here. I want our residents to come into the restaurants every day and be wowed, not just by the food but by the presentation and the service. Even though it’s their home, I want them to feel like they’re eating in a nice restaurant every day.”

Recognizing changes in food trends

To accomplish these goals, Sheehan realizes she and her team have to first recognize changes in food trends among incoming residents at Seabrook.

“People who are moving here have a different lifestyle when it comes to eating than people who moved here five, ten years ago. We have more vegetarians and gluten-free diets, people who want to eat later or at different times throughout the day. We have to take a deeper look at the changes in our demographics, and we have to get creative to satisfy them,” she says. 

Sheehan sees this not as a challenge, but as an opportunity. 

“This is an opportunity to improve the dining experience for our residents,” she says. “Dining here has always been good, but we have a chance to make it excellent.”

Four-step plan

To do that, she’s starting with her staff—developing those who have been with Seabrook for many years, and filling in the gaps with fresh, creative talent. “From a staff perspective, we have to make sure our team is engaged and passionate. It’s about making sure we have the right people in place and developing them as individuals on our team.”

Second, Sheehan wants everyone on her team to be committed to the basics. “We should always be consistent. Hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Consistent presentation. These are the basics, and a great dining experience starts there.” 

Third, she plans to focus on expanding flexibility and creativity with the menu. “I want to bring in regional foods and dishes, and work with residents on some of their favorites,” she says. This step includes introducing more gluten-free, vegetarian, and specialty diet options.

Fourth, and most important, Sheehan says, is to develop relationships with residents to show her team is not passively listening to their requests or concerns. 

She says she plans to accomplish this “through more ‘table touches’ (where dining, administrative, and executive staff members talk with residents about their dining experience), meeting with committees in each restaurant in addition to the Resident Advisory Council, and even sitting down for a meal ourselves to experience what residents experience firsthand.”

All on board

Sheehan doesn’t plan to accomplish all this on her own. She counts on her dedicated team of culinary and service professionals to help her, especially Executive Chef Joe Marinelli.

“Joe has been here for more than ten years,” Sheehan says. “He’s talented, creative, and especially engaged with the residents.” 

Marinelli is currently developing young talent on Seabrook’s culinary team to carry out his vision for quality, detail, and creativity.

What lies ahead

Looking at what lies ahead for her, Sheehan says she feels nothing but excitement. 

“My background in dietetics and food service management kept me in the back of the house. Here, I get to develop relationships with the people I’m serving. I’m getting to know all the residents, their families, and their preferences. And our staff is just as passionate and engaged as I am, which makes it that much better.”

“We have a lot of opportunity here,” Sheehan says, “especially with the corporate resources from Erickson Living. Things are changing, and it’s going to be good.”

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