19 Jun Outdoor Dining with Scott Daniels
Mike: Hey, everybody. Welcome back to Cosmic Soup. It is great to be back. We missed you all terribly. I know it’s been a very long time since we have been together. But I promise you we didn’t go anywhere. Like a lot of companies out there, we just had to take a quick step back to do some reorganization.
Mike: Now the time has come to step back out of the shadows for a brand new season of everybody’s favorite senior living podcast. Speaking of seasons, I am excited to bring you today’s episode because, for those of us who live in areas where we have all four seasons, it’s getting to be that time of the year where the weather is warming up, the sun is coming out, and we can start thinking about one of my favorite things in the entire universe, outdoor dining.
Joining me today is my good friend, Executive Chef and VP of Culinary Ops at 3rdPlus and Culinary Coach, Scott Daniels, who I know for a fact shares my passion and enthusiasm for the great outdoors and for taking advantage of the weather to create memorable dining experiences.
Hey, Scott. Thanks for hanging out today in the Soup. Awesome to have you here again.
Scott: Hey, Mike. It’s great to be with you again. I missed our time together. Yeah, I’m excited. It’s outdoor dining and cooking. Mike, as you know, as a hobby, I’m a barbeque smoker and griller, so this is a fun and exciting time of the year for me. Spring, for a good part of the country, is upon us, and summer is just around the corner.
Mike: Yeah. Even though we live on opposite coasts – you know I’m here in the Seattle area where the 3rdPlus team is, and you are based over in Delaware working for 3rdPlus and Culinary Coach on that coast – our weather patterns aren’t terribly different.
Even though we might have different extremes, we kind of look forward to the same time of year for things to kind of start happening and opening up for some new options. Right about now is the time when we start to see the sun come out, things are kind of getting warm.
We look outside. We go, “Man, I really just want to get out from the indoors and experience nature and experience all of those really cool things about being outside.” I know that you and I both have that in common.
Scott: Absolutely. It’s an exciting time of the year. Mike, on top of that, coming out of COVID – and, hopefully, we continue to come out of the COVID pandemic – people have been just cooped up at home trying to stay safe and stay alive. With the warmer weather coming around, getting outside, even if it’s in small groups, it’s a great time to enjoy the cool weather, the longer days, and beat the heat before the meat of summer hits us with the very high temps.
Mike: Yeah, absolutely. Let’s talk about outdoor dining then. Now, I’ve experienced first-hand a little bit of resistance to outdoor dining in the senior living communities that I have been in. You and I have talked about this.
It’s hard to understand it because it doesn’t have to be complicated. It doesn’t have to be expensive. It’s not something that requires any extensive knowledge on doing it. It’s really about providing options, and there are just so many benefits to eating outdoors and to being outdoors.
Let’s talk about why has there been so much resistance to it. How easy is it? Let’s talk about some of the benefits of setting up just a really cool outdoor dining program.
Scott: Absolutely, Mike. I think part of the challenge that a lot of communities face – and this is human nature – is we’re resistant to change. In most senior communities, there are established dining rooms across the continuum of care. They’ve got a routine or a pattern set up where dinner is at 5 o’clock in this dining room and 5:15 in that, or lunch.
Taking a left turn or a right turn to do something a little different just becomes challenging. But really, it’s easy. All you’re doing is changing your venue where the residents are going to eat and the menu that they’re going to be dining on.
You said it earlier. It doesn’t have to be an extravagant, over-the-top, big event. It can be simple. Not that it can’t be a really big, well-planned event, but it can be just a cookout tomorrow with burgers and dogs with residents around picnic tables and corn on the cob. It’s coming right around the season. Fresh cobblers with fruits from different parts of the country. It doesn’t have to be over the top.
If you ask most residents, and I don’t care what the economy of the community is, most residents enjoy comfort food, a grilled hotdog, a grilled hamburger, a piece of barbequed chicken, or grilled chicken on the grill. It doesn’t have to be something the staff doesn’t know how to do or has never done before. It can be that simple.
Mike: I will never again in my life underestimate the importance of a hotdog on a menu [laughter] in a senior living community based off an experience that you know what I’m talking about.
Scott: Oh, absolutely. And it’s basic.
You look in most senior living communities – especially through the continuum of care, the assisted living or skilled – they’re serving a hotdog that’s been cooked in a steamer or what we know in the baseball world, the dirty water dogs.
Scott: Right? They’ve been boiled in water that we don’t want to know what’s in.
There’s nothing better than a hotdog, a good hotdog charred on a grill with some caramelization. That brings back memories for most residents.
Again, it’s inexpensive. It’s good. It can be cooked at time of service. It doesn’t have to be grilled and put in a hot box. Make it a fun event.
Here’s what I tell the dining departments. Don’t think you have to go down the road of executing an outdoor dining event on your own. Partner with your life enrichment department. Partner with your activities. Partner with your sales department. Get everybody involved to plan and organize a great outdoor barbeque. Work with your maintenance department.
Obviously, safety and equipment are very important. Gas grills have to be handled. You’re obviously in a community with senior residents and their safety is of the utmost importance. Work with your maintenance department to make sure they have safe and secure gas tanks that are available on campus that are safely kept in locations that are secured.
Plan those events. Think of the weather. Obviously, the spring and fall, to me, for senior living are the best times to do barbeques, especially in the hotter climate parts of the year because it gets too hot and residents don’t like too hot. They don’t like too cold, so spring and fall tend to be your best outdoor dining to get the residents engaged and want to dine outdoors.
Here’s what I’ll tell you to me is the most important thing in senior living is if a community is doing great outdoor dining and barbeques, when are they typically doing it? On the independent side.
Scott: That’s great, but you need to move that whole barbeque process or outdoor dining process through the continuum of care, offering it. It doesn’t have to be done on the same day. You can have a barbeque or an outdoor dining event for independent this week. You can do a different one, the same menu, different menu next week for assisted living. Then the following week for your skilled nursing or memory support.
Again, every community has great outdoor venues. You don’t have to have a venue big enough to seat 100 people. It can be small events where you’re inviting smaller groups but doing them multiple times. Gardens, lakes, courtyards – memory support typically always have a nice courtyard – you can have those events out there.
Make it fun. Theme it. It doesn’t always have to be a full meal. It can be a dessert event where you’re doing an outdoor dessert event. Great fresh peaches, growing fresh peaches with home-churned ice cream with—
Mike: Oh, my God. Yes!
Scott: The residents are making as part of an activity, a life enrichment event. Who wouldn’t love a great grilled, fresh peach with home-churned vanilla ice cream?
Mike: Grilled fruit and ice cream is literally the best dessert on the planet.
You know there was a particular community that I was working with here in the Seattle area, actually out in Kitsap County. I was kind of surprised when I went there because they had an enormous patio on the water, literally feet from a massive bay, a million-dollar view, absolutely epic. They had all the tables turned over, like in the middle of summer, and all the chairs turned over on top of the tables. It wasn’t being used.
If somebody wanted to use the space, they had to ask somebody to take a chair down.
It was right outside of the dining room. I was like, “Why don’t you just open up this spot to dine?”
They were like, “Are you out of your mind?” They were like, “We don’t have the budget for that.”
I was like, “You already have a barbeque, a gas grill on site. You already have tables. You already have chairs.”
The extent of their investment for me to set this up for them was the cost of one four-foot cooler, so a big cooler, which was like – I don’t know – $70, and the food to stock it with because they had everything else already. They just had to move it from point A to point B, clean up the table and chairs, open up the umbrellas, and that was it.
We did it a couple of times a month and made an event out of it. But even if we didn’t do hotdogs and stuff like that as a special item, they could just sit on the patio and still order off the regular menu. Just had a different spot to sit, so maybe you didn’t open up the full indoor dining room and, instead, took that server and placed that server outside. People would love to go outside.
The server was like, “I’ll go work outside.”
The residents would be like, “I’ll go eat outside.”
Then you just switch it up so everybody gets a chance to enjoy it. But it literally was a no investment thing with stuff they already had, and people wanting to do it, and them just not realizing how popular it would have been for literally no cost.
Scott: Well, to me, when you talk about that community that’s right on the water, how many restaurants would die for real estate like that, to have an outdoor dining portion of their restaurant, because that would draw customers. That would be filled in the prime time of the season for outdoor dining.
I think we have to get senior communities and the teams that drive them to understand it’s what would you want. Just because they’re senior residents doesn’t mean they’re cloistered in dining rooms and cloistered in little compartmentalized dining areas. Make it fun.
They’re eating in the same place every day, so why not give them an option to break the monotony, do a little bit of fun, outdoor dining? Again, you can pair it with an activity.
Pair it with an event for the sales department where you invite potential new residents to that barbeque and dine with current residents. It could be a win-win for the whole community, not just the residents that are experiencing that meal. They can market that.
If you’re going to visit as a potential resident for a community, a meal should be part of that tour. If you’re taking a tour and a community is not providing a meal as part of that, dining with residents, and if it’s a beautiful day, you have outdoor dining, and you have a beautiful scenery in your community, that’s a missed opportunity by not taking advantage of that and showing that, hey, not only do we have dining but we have fun dining. We have exciting dining. We have creative dining. And we use the whole campus that our community is on, whether it’s country setting, city setting.
You look at communities. You’re there in Seattle, and there are retirement communities that are high-rises. I guarantee most of those high-rises have outdoor patios, rooftop patios that can be great venues for outdoor dining, cocktail receptions, cheese and wine pairing events. It’s just a great way to get outside and use your community to benefit not only the residents but the community.
Mike: Yeah. I mean if I was in sales and marketing, in that element, if that was the department that I was responsible for and I was kind of tasked with maybe some lead gen opportunities or maybe just some rebranding, getting some new ideas out to the public, I mean I would definitely go for, “Here’s the cool stuff we do. Come party with us,” vibe, right? A bunch of folks out there, and you break the agist preconceptions of people just sitting in these little places all stuffy together.
We’re out here. We’re partying. We’re having a good time. We’re having fun. I’ve got guests. I’ve got family.
Especially in the time post-COVID, you get them out from the indoor recycled air and you get them out into fresh air where it’s actually safer. Just a better, more comfortable environment for guests to come and everybody feels more at ease. It’s not quite so – I don’t know what the right word is – not quite so stuffy.
But if I was looking to pitch something to the world that says, “Here’s how awesome we are,” I would definitely be showing people having a good time out on a patio somewhere eating outside, drinking outside, dancing, listening to music, whatever. Anything you can think of, to me it’s a no-brainer.
Scott: Absolutely. There are holidays. You have Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day. You have all different, you know, Summer Solstice. You could do events around holidays.
Again, I keep going back to they don’t have to be where you’re roasting a whole pig, although that would be great if you’ve got the equipment to do so.
Mike: I’d go.
Scott: It can be barbequed chicken halves. It can be doing spare ribs on the grill that might have been precooked in the kitchen and you’re finishing them on the grill for speed of service.
It can be fun. You can get cookers for corn on the cob. You can have – strawberry season – fresh strawberry shortcake. Creativity is endless. Use what’s local to your community.
Everybody has different seasons and different items that are local, but fresh tomatoes are coming up. You can have stationary barbequed food items, fresh tomato and mozzarella salads with fresh basil in the peak of the season.
It doesn’t have to be fancy. It can be on disposables.
I’ve had communities tell me, “We can’t do that because we don’t have enough china to supply china to an outside dining venue as well, and we don’t have it in our budget.” It can be disposables.
Try to take the barrier to entry out of the way. Take those things that are forcing you or making you think you can’t be creative doing outdoor dining, and say, “How can we get those out of the way? Can we use paper or plastic?” It’s a one-day event here and there. Why not use paper and plastic?
“We don’t have enough tables and chairs.” Activities has tables and chairs. You can be creative.
Mike: Yeah, borrow from other departments in terms of disposables. There are a lot of really, really, really good quality, single-use items out there that are environmentally friendly, that are compostable, that aren’t going to leave that negative footprint. To alleviate those concerns, that’s definitely a viable option. You don’t have to buy a bunch of china, and you can get single-use items that are okay to use.
Mike, I had a community that I managed (in my portfolio) that was a county nursing home, 400-resident county nursing home, so an economical offer. They had different wings of the building, and each wing had a patio. Three times each spring, summer, and fall, the CEO and the vice-president of the community, we would dawn them with chef coats and chef hats, did all the legwork for them, and they were basic hamburger, hotdog, chicken breast sandwiches.
They would be the grill masters. They would come out, and we’d have somebody from the dining department with them and would help them. They were kind of there just for the pizzazz, and they loved it.
It was great for the C-suite to get out in front of the residents and show them that they were part of the community. And the residents loved it because, number one, it was outdoor dining. It was fun. It was stuff they don’t normally get. Yes, they get hotdogs and hamburgers, but not off a grill with that great char taste and fresh vegetables and potato salad and that fun stuff. It’s a great way for the C-suite to get involved, too, and be proactive in their community.
Mike: Yeah, and it’s really cool to see your executive team out there being involved, having that little taste of being with the operational side of things. It shows a different side to that. I think that’s great. It’s a huge benefit.
Cooking something like that is not terribly difficult. You can pretty much cook a hotdog, a hamburger, or a small piece of chicken or whatever.
Even for those folks that maybe can’t eat some of that food that’s super chewy or stuff like that, there are plenty of options that you can serve that are on the softer side. You still obviously want to take care of those that are on the special diets, but totally doable.
It’s just the same food, different setting, if you have to. Right?
Scott: You just brought up special diets, and we don’t want to forget about them. Residents, communities, as you move through the continuum of care, you’re going to have dietary needs for residents. Those residents, if you’re doing outside dining, should experience the same great food. The only thing that should be different is the texture modifications.
You can still take a great grilled hamburger and puree them. Yes, you’re going to maybe cook them a little bit before so you have them as you’re outside. But they shouldn’t get a hamburger that’s been cooked in the kitchen and doesn’t have that great flavor and char. The same with the hotdogs or barbequed chicken breast. They should experience that same great tasting – I’ll call it – summer food. It’s not really your year-round food now, but that great experience that brings back nostalgia from their younger years having outdoor dining.
Mike: Yeah. Yeah, I think it’s a crucial element to be able to get out in nature, to have that setting, especially folks, for instance, in memory care. Outdoors is very important to a lot of folks because that environment creates cues and has very beneficial, lasting effects as well.
There’s some health and some mental benefit to being outside, to being in the sun. People with Seasonal Affective Disorder love to be outside when it’s a little bit warmer.
Mike: Aside from the fact that it’s just kind of fun, it really does have a beneficial effect on you physiologically. Now, full disclaimer; I’m no doctor. But we’ve been hearing that basically forever. That’s nothing new.
Everybody, no matter what level they’re at on the continuum of care, is entitled to have those same experiences environmentally and from a food standpoint.
Scott: I couldn’t agree with you more, Mike. Even at home, this time of year, now that the days are longer. You get home from work; I love eating out on the back deck. Even if it’s food I cooked in the house and not on the barbeque grill, I still enjoy eating outside in the environment, hearing the sounds of nature.
I don’t know. It makes you feel better. The food tastes better. It becomes mind over matter. It’s just a great dining experience all around.
I challenge. I challenge every food service director and every C-suite member to challenge food service directors and your other departments to get out there, use your outdoor space, and create some great fun, dining experiences for your residents. It’s really not hard. It’s surely not expensive.
That shouldn’t be, “Oh, my God! We can’t afford it.” It’s not expensive. We’re not asking you to serve surf and turf and carved tenderloins. It can be simple food.
Yes, serve the carved tenderloins and do shrimp boils and things if that’s in your purview and your budget. But it doesn’t have to be that.
Mike: Yeah. There are plenty of communities out there that are on really tight budgets. Maybe their PPD is not as high as they like. Maybe they’re not serving things that are going to be expensive.
But you can still take some canned corn, and you can heat it up on a grill outside in some nice butter. Sauté it up in a pan, and still get that smoky vibe to it. The wok hei, they call it, right, where you get the essence of the sauté.
Mike: You can take your same product and just put it in a different environment, and it doesn’t necessarily have to cost you anything else. It’s the setting that is the most important part of this.
Scott: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Mike: Even if you’re on that tight PPD, you can take the stuff you’re already using and just either cook it elsewhere or bring it elsewhere and still have that great experience with it. You don’t have to buy an entirely new menu or provide an entirely new menu to make this happen. All you need is the setting and you’re most of the way there.
Scott: Absolutely, Mike. Couldn’t agree more.
Mike: That being said, Scott, clearly there are going to be people out there that maybe they don’t understand how to make this happen or maybe they need some ideas. What can you do (and Culinary Coach do) to kind of help bridge that gap for people who might need a little bit of extra assistance in making that happen?
Scott: Sure. First of all, I think everybody is capable of doing outdoor dining at different levels. There’s no question there.
There are going to be people that have never done it or need help. You can reach out to the Culinary Coach. We are more than happy to be able to provide you with some assistance, even just coaching from aside – a phone call, an email – just to give you an idea or if you have a question that you want to bounce off of us.
We’d love to help you. We love to help communities enhance the dining experience, making the residents’ experience better. That’s what we’re all here for. Who doesn’t want to see a resident with a big smile on their face enjoying something that might bring back thoughts of their childhood growing up?
Scott: We’re more than happy to help you. Just reach out to the Culinary Coach.
Mike: Yeah, and if you guys need ideas on really how to take advantage of the season, Scott and the Culinary Coach team can really help you generate some ideas on what products you might be able to get a hold of this time of year to take advantage of nature, take advantage of the bounty that it has provided. No matter where you are in the country, they have the expertise to help you out with that.
Scott: Absolutely, Mike.
Mike: All right, Scott. Well, this has been awesome. I think you and I could probably talk about outdoor dining every day for the rest of our lives and still have so much to talk about and never get tired of it. But thanks for hanging out today on Cosmic Soup and sharing these awesome ideas for outdoor dining. I’m looking forward to the next conversation you and I get to have to help improve the lives of our seniors.
Scott: Mike, thanks. It’s great catching up with you and having a conversation around food. It’s always fun and enjoyable.
Mike: All right. Thanks, Scott.
Scott: Thank you, sir.
Mike: Thanks, as always, to all of you out there in radio and podcast land for joining us on this perpetual quest for senior living awesomeness.
Don’t forget, you can reach out to Scott and the Culinary Coach team by visiting the website at either cultinarycoach.us or 3rdplus.com. While you’re online, make sure you follow 3rdPlus on all the social media channels for some truly life-changing ideas and programs.
That’s it for today’s episode, so stay safe, take care, and we’ll see you next time on Cosmic Soup.