Tribune Print Share Text

Cooked to order

Ann’s Choice serves up changes to its dining program

Created date

January 7th, 2016

Ann choice cook prepares meal to order

According to two recent dining surveys, people who live at retirement communities and Baby Boomers who are beginning to consider such a move say the qualities that matter most to them are variety of the cuisine, choices in terms of restaurants and menus, and an ambience of hospitality.

The dining experience at Ann’s Choice, Erickson Living’s retirement community in Bucks County, Pa., has always emphasized those elements. 

On the hospitality front, residents can select from two flexible dining plans: the monthly plan, which equates to a meal for each day of a given month, or the 20-meal plan. 

With a few exceptions, residents can use their meals at any time during a month and can also use them to treat guests. 

Besides variety, choice, and hospitality, the surveys by Senior Housing News and by Erickson Living also found that people desire good nutrition, the ability to choose items that conform to individual eating plans, and the availability of food throughout the day instead of only at specific meal times. 

Campus restaurants showcase cooked-to-order cuisine

The Ann’s Choice dining services department has always focused on fresh and high-quality food.

But in response to resident feedback, last August, the department implemented a major change: it switched to a “cooked-to-order” program of food preparation, the same as you’d find in an upscale restaurant. 

“When we volunteered to do this, the staff was really excited by the idea,” says Dining Services Director Chris Babst. 

Now, instead of preparing five unique entrées at dinner time for three of its five different restaurant menus, dining services offers at least 25 different entrées in each location.

Some of the more popular dishes and some daily specials are offered in every restaurant venue, and residents can find entrées such as filet mignon, shrimp, and scallops on at least one of the restaurant menus every night.

Additional changes include evening meals available in Banners Café, which offers a more casual setting and an equally expansive but somewhat different selection of menu items. Its menu features specials, sandwiches, and entrée salads. And Signatures Restaurant in Liberty Commons Clubhouse now serves a full-service lunch menu. 

Residents can find a meal available on campus almost any time of day.

The changes align with resident preferences for extensive menus and dining venues that also include specialized cuisine.

The Erickson Living survey found that many residents favor Italian cuisine and that fish ranks highest among favorite entrées. At Ann’s Choice, diners will find those choices available every day.

Kitchen makeovers

The change to cooking to order required redesigning all three campus kitchens. 

Out went the steam tables where cooks had kept the small amounts of food they prepared warm until serving. In came specialty stations for sauces, grilling, salad prep, and desserts. Dining services expanded the refrigeration and added new equipment, including charbroilers and eight-burner instead of four-burner ranges. 

Not only did the change increase the quality of the food, says Babst, but the cooks benefitted because they learned new food preparation skills.

Residents are pleased, too. They like the quality and expanded variety of the food, and they appreciate the built-in option of customizing their orders. 

“Dining services is always responsive to residents’ requests and comments,” says Marty Mikelberg. When he orders a Ceasar salad, he always asks for anchovies. “But when a sauce comes with my entrée, I always ask that it be served on the side.”

The Mikelbergs have long emphasized healthy, low-calorie eating, so they rarely order sumptuous desserts. The new menus, however, also offer individual cookies. “It’s something small,” says Marty. “Sandy and I order one cookie and share it.”

Quality and ambience

Babst aims always to ensure quality in the kitchens and a comfortable ambience for residents and their guests. 

He, his chefs, and his restaurant managers all bring restaurant and hospitality backgrounds to their positions. 

“We have the talent and facilities to be leaders in the industry, and that’s our goal,” says Babst. “With this new program, we can better meet the needs of current and future residents.”