Advice to New Dining Supervisors & Managers

May 9, 2022

I was a young, fresh-faced professional when I landed my first job in senior living. I was hired in the fall of 2003 as a Dining Room Manager at Lakeview Village, Inc. Lakeview Village is a continuing care retirement community-the largest in the state of Kansas at the time–that served over 800 residents in all levels of care. Eighteen months into that job, I was promoted to the role of Dining Services Director. It was a role that I was not really working towards or had anywhere on my career path at that moment in time. But that promotion and the following 3 years changed me, and opened my eyes to what senior living food and hospitality could truly become.

I had always planned to be the GM at a high-end hotel or resort. I spent time learning the business working at amazing hotel operations such as The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs and Marriott International in Kansas City. And before I went into that Dining Room Manager role, I had just spent the last 7 years working my way up the ranks from a banquet server to the Food & Beverage Manager at a conference hotel. So the idea of taking the job at a senior living community seemed to me to be one that was a stop on my “actual path”, one that was needed due to things happening in my personal life.

But once I got into the position at that CCRC, I never looked back. I learned that there was ample opportunity to bring a hospitality mind-set to senior living. I got the promotion to Dining Services Director because even though I had never been at the director level in an organization, I had the hospitality background needed to begin transforming the dining operation. But I was really green when it came to understanding how to be a leader and develop a team that would be successful. And as I look back on my career at that point, I think of some advice that I would share with my younger self that I think can be helpful to new managers & leaders in senior living food & beverage today.

1. Always be yourself. Early on I was given the (bad) advice of separating my work and personal lives completely. DON’T DO THIS. YOu should absolutely create boundaries around personal things, but your team will be more engaged if they see you as an authentic leader that is a real person outside of those dining room walls.

2. Embrace the idea of having a mentor. I didn't believe in the concept of having someone that could show me the way early in my career. I fell flat on my face a few times as I grew into the role, and could have avoided some of those mistakes if I had set my ego aside and had someone that would offer me advice and guidance. I eventually found that mentor, and she made me a better director and person.

3. Lean in to developing deeper relationships with your team. Knowing your team on a more personal level will allow you to build trust with them and create a more cohesive group. It also gives you the opportunity to celebrate personal wins and special moments in their lives. All of this will make for a better team, and will give you more insight on how to manage each person better and give them grace as needed should there be bumps along the way.

It took me a while to figure these things out, and fortunately that brand new director eventually did make these things a part of how he operated. And as the senior living industry continues to grow, we are going to be adding many young and new managers and supervisors to our ranks. Hopefully the advice from someone that has traveled a similar journey will help them along the way.