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Recipe for success

Jill Clippinger leads Oak Crest’s dedicated culinary team who strive to make every meal great

Created date

June 14th, 2018
Oak Crest Director of Dining Services Jill Clippinger oversees the Parkville community’s five on-site restaurants.

Oak Crest Director of Dining Services Jill Clippinger oversees the Parkville community’s five on-site restaurants.

If you peeked into the kitchen of your favorite restaurant during the dinner rush, you would be amazed at the well-oiled machine operating just beyond your table: prep cooks chopping vegetables, sous chefs sautéing fish and chicken, waitstaff filling drinks and loading trays with beautifully plated entrées ready to be delivered.

Jill Clippinger knows exactly what it takes to keep a restaurant running smoothly. As the director of dining services at Oak Crest, she oversees not one but five restaurants.

“I see my role really as a coach,” says Clippinger. “I’m just guiding the team, providing support and vision.”

Clippinger leads a culinary team of 375 who serve more than 2,000 residents across five restaurants, as well as a busy catering department and the dining venues in Oak Crest’s continuing care neighborhood. She began her career with Oak Crest in 2003 as a restaurant manager before rising to dining services director in 2017.

“Working here is really rewarding. Every day I feel like I’m making a difference,” says Clippinger.

Customer-driven

With a variety of healthy menu options, Oak Crest serves approximately 3,000 meals a day to community members, employees, and guests.

Clippinger and her team work to ensure customer satisfaction by developing relationships with the people they serve. One way she does that is by spending time tableside talking with residents about their dining experience.

Regular focus groups also provide community members an opportunity to give direct feedback on the menus, and smaller coffee “chat” sessions allow residents to ask questions, give their input on their dining experiences, share what they liked, as well as provide suggestions.

“There is a teacher inside of me so I love coaching and developing staff, but not a day goes by that I don’t love the interaction and relationships with residents,” says Clippinger.

The community distributes an annual resident satisfaction survey that measures Oak Crest’s improvement from year to year, as well as how it compares to similar continuing care retirement communities in the United States, including other Erickson Living communities.

In their pursuit of providing an exceptional culinary experience, in 2016 Oak Crest introduced their Signature Dining program, a new cooked-to-order menu.

“Cook-to-order means cooking for an individual, not 50 people. It means refining time management and learning new recipes,” says Clippinger. “Our variety has improved. The daily menu at each restaurant includes 25 standard items, and then we layer in three weekly specials and a fresh seafood catch. Overall, 15% of the menu changes monthly and 45% changes on a quarterly basis. The residents like the expanded selections and fresh taste. As a team, our kitchen skills have sharpened which makes it exciting for our chefs, line cooks, and prep team.”

What’s cooking

Oak Crest also offers diners easy ways to choose healthful foods through a program called Healthier Choice, which follows the USDA dietary guidelines for Americans and the American Heart Association’s recommendations with regard to the amount of fat, sodium, and sugar.

Smart Sweet, an alternative dessert program for people who want to avoid fat and sugar but still enjoy dessert after a meal, is also available.

Community members have full access to nutritional information on the meals served in each of the seven restaurants on My Nutrition, an easy-to-use website that empowers residents to make informed food choices.

Earlier this year, three of Oak Crest’s restaurants underwent a complete renovation. The new Quarry Grill features an open-air grill with three-season alfresco dining. McHenry’s, a buffet-style restaurant is attached to 1812, a small-plates eatery specializing in appetizers like sausage-stuffed baby portabella mushrooms, prosciutto-wrapped melon with lemon frisee, roasted Vidalia onion soup gratin, and crab wontons.

“The small-plates concept is completely new for Oak Crest; we’ve never offered anything like this before,” says Clippinger. “It has really brought Oak Crest to a whole new level when it comes to dining.”

Although it can get tricky trying to satisfy the appetites of so many people, no matter how busy Clippinger gets, the residents are always at the heart of everything she does.

“I’ve met a lot of people over the last 15 years,” says Clippinger. “Many of the residents living here today were here when I got married and through the birth of my children. They have really become like family to me. I tell all of my staff to embrace the relationships you develop with the residents. They have experienced a lot, and you can learn a lot from them.”

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