From-Scratch Cooking Boosts Customer Satisfaction and Lowers Costs at Legacy Retirement Communities

Keeping customer satisfaction high while keeping costs down challenges all health care dining professionals. At 652-resident Legacy Retirement Communities in Lincoln, Neb., Robert J. Darrah, CDM, CFP, CHC, director of Dining Services, tackled the seemingly contradictory expectations by transitioning his department to a scratch-preparation kitchen.

Legacy-IMG 0004"This was a long process," Darrah says. "We know we have to continually exceed our residents' expectations for high quality food and service. We also need to contain costs. After much research, I developed a proposal showing there would be a cost savings to transition to scratch-based production versus buying a lot of processed foods and presented it to ownership. I doubled my production staff, but by revamping the menu we remained budget-neutral."The owners agreed to Darrah's proposal. During a 2-year transition process, the dinner menu expanded from offering 2 regular items listed on a 2-page menu to a 3-page, fold-out menu with about 14 items, including 3 main entrees, 11 optional entrees, 3 starch accompaniments, salads, vegetables, soups and desserts. "The menu is diverse with prime rib, lobster tail, crab legs and fresh salmon daily," Darrah says. White tablecloths and fine china contribute to the upscale restaurant ambiance.

 New Ambiance

The made-from-scratch ravioli features one ravioli with basil-flavored pasta filled with ricotta cheese and basil and another tomato ravioli with ricotta, tomato and basil filling. Both are garnished with a light tomato sauce and relish of olives, capers, zucchini squash and Parmesan cheese."Our residents like feeling as if they are going to a different restaurant every night," Darrah says. "So every night we present a different printed menu in a menu jacket. Residents have responded really well."

Darrah's department serves approximately 620 people each day at breakfast, lunch and dinner in 4 facilities spread across 4 campuses. Staff serve breakfast from 7 a.m. until 10 a.m., lunch from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. and dinner from 4:30 p.m. until 7 p.m.

Legacy-IMG 0283Lobster tail aficionados appreciate this crustacean topped with Americana sauce. Photos courtesy of Legacy Retirement Communities, photos by Robert DarrahProducing the new menu did not require new equipment since the operation was already well equipped with combi ovens, convection ovens, open broilers, flattop grills and soup kettles. "However, we hired qualified and classically trained chefs," Darrah says. "They must be well trained to keep the menu and service standards high. For example, we bring in fresh salmon daily and only a trained chef can filet and portion out a full salmon. This saves us a lot of money. We hand-cut all of our steaks and poultry as well."

Chefs and other staff not only prepare daily menu fare but also prepare food for 22 annual events, including The Legacy Capital City Culinary Classics for up to 1,500 people. "We bring back classic dishes from restaurants of the 60s and 70s that closed down," Darrah says.