Senior Living Data & Dining—The POS Connection

Senior citizens dining in a senior living center

Use your point-of-sale system to keep in touch with your business data and stay in touch with what’s important to your diners.

A point of sale (POS) system is more than a tool for collecting and tracking data. It’s a two-way street, gathering information that can improve business while also providing an avenue to customer satisfaction. It’s for both of these reasons that the tablets and stations common in restaurant dining also have a place in healthcare and senior-living communities.

The POS is a portal to time- and money-saving knowledge. The core data POS systems provide proves helpful in tracking purchases, managing inventory and planning menus. Beyond those business efficiencies, there’s the customer connection. Just ask Justin Ely, the Chef and Dietary Manager at Waterford Place in Jenison, Michigan, who uses his system to monitor real-time transactions and give customers a direct link to the kitchen.

One of the big ways this happens is by making sure food comes to the table as ordered, Ely explains. He offers this example: “If a resident asks for a salad, the order cannot be completed until the person taking the order tableside checks off a box for the dressing—that way a salad won’t come to the table without being prepared just as it was requested.”

A menu manager and a time saver

Ely oversees foodservice for residents living in Waterford’s 84 independent living homes, 30 assisted-living and 39 rehabilitation units. He also provides food for special events and life-enrichment programs, as well as catering for guest-planned gatherings.

For now, the POS system is used only at the community’s dining room open to independent-living residents at lunch. “We track the items that sell the most, what they cost and how much profit we make,” Ely says. This helps him craft a cycle menu and daily specials using foods he knows are popular.

That’s important because the 120-plus residents have other nearby dining options or are able to make meals in their own kitchens. Ely strives to make lunch service as much like a restaurant experience as possible. After the meal is complete, payment is processed using the POS system, which can take credit cards, gift cards or apply the tab to a “Café Room Charge” billing system.
“Residents can scan their ID badges right into the POS and the billing information is sent to an outside company that handles the paperwork, saving us the time of managing room accounts,” Ely notes.

An inventory advantage

Creating efficiencies is what good data tracking is all about, according to Nick Saccaro, President of Quest Food Management Services in Lombard, Illinois. Not only can a POS system monitor what’s selling and what’s not, it can also tell what’s popular at specific times. Maybe the soups are more popular at lunch than dinner, or sandwiches are more popular during warm months than cold months. Perhaps it’s as simple as selling a few more slices of cake when a certain topping is added.

Using such information, he says, makes it easier to get a handle on inventory, storage, food waste and ordering.

“Many kitchens are pressed for space, and the POS system can help users forecast how much they need and when it’s needed,” Saccaro says. “That helps reduce excess product and make the most of storage.”

Driving down labour costs

Any kitchen supervisor knows that food costs are only part of the picture. Managing the labour force is a big challenge. The numbers that guide food usage also are building blocks to managing labour.

“If you know that Thursdays you’ll be serving a popular dish, you can put together a more precise staffing plan for preparing and serving it,” Saccaro points out. “Maybe you’ll find that the labour it takes to create a meal can be cut by using prepared ingredients instead of scratch cooking.”

A POS system also can help manage staff training and prevent serving errors, he says. “The customer data that’s captured, such as info about allergens and dietary or nutritional needs, can simplify the ordering and the serving process.”

A dietary alert, for example, can tell servers about a doctor’s orders at the time a food request is placed, preventing mistakes that cost time, waste food and jeopardize the well-being of the diner.

The personal touch

When it comes to saving time, Ely says he especially benefits from the countdown feature the POS system provides. “If we run out of blueberry pie, the server will know that right at the table,” he says. “There’s nothing more frustrating than having your appetite set on a slice of pie only to have the server return to the table and give you the bad news that you have to reconsider your order.”

Boosting satisfaction in the dining room has a big payoff, Ely says. It enhances the atmosphere for everyone, from those sitting at the tables who sense higher-quality service to the workers who perform their jobs with more confidence.

No matter how helpful any data-gathering tools are, there’s no substitute for talking to residents in the dining room, Ely reminds. “We use the POS information we gather to shape our menu, but I still like to go from table to table and greet guests, asking them what they enjoy or what they want to see more of on the menu.”

Where the POS system helps in that regard, he says, is by allowing servers to spend less time taking orders and more time talking with residents and guests. “No matter how good the POS system is, you can’t overlook that personal connection.”

The right fit?

POS systems can help improve food and labour costs and increase customer satisfaction.  But how do you know if a POS is something you should look into?  Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you sell meal plans to residents or employees?
  • Are you looking for efficiencies in handling payments from visitors and/or residents?
  • Do you want to add credit card and gift card capability?
  • Are you looking for help manage your invoicing process?
  • Do you want to analyze your sales data to optimize your menu offerings?
  • Do you need help in understanding the profit you make on specific menu items?
  • Do you want to document and analyze your labour?
  • Are you looking to improve service by delivering on your customer's meal requests?

Plenty of possibilities

Features, reporting and integration—a versatile POS system can:
Provide photo ID at point of sale.

  • Provide confidential information to staff and family.
  • Track participation in a food program.
  • Create customizable meal plans by day, week, month.
  • Monitor nutrition, allergy alerts, dietary needs.
  • Provide account information and balance reports.
  • Generate reports on kitchen performance.
  • Simplify inventory tracking.
  • Increase ordering efficiency.

Putting it in its place

Here are all the places a POS system be used:

  • Dining rooms.
  • Snack bars.
  • C-stores.
  • Coffee stations.
  • Food carts.
  • Catered/special events.
  • Gift shops.
  • Employee cafeterias.