Fine dining during COVID-19 at Delmanor communities

By Chef Divakar Raju

As we approach our third full “season” of COVID-19, it’s not just the infection that is impacting our population, it’s also anxiety, stress, isolation, and depression. In addition to being at higher risk of complications from the illness than other segments of the population, older adults are also vulnerable to the impact of social isolation, depression, and may see an escalation in chronic medical conditions because of the measures put into place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Dr. Mah, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at U of T says, “Seniors’ mental health is a highly relevant issue right now. We know that during the SARS epidemic in 2003, there were increases in psychiatric problems among older adults in areas with large outbreaks of the virus. Today, one-third of people below 65 years of age are experiencing depression and high stress, even when they have not been infected or exposed to COVID-19. These numbers may be even higher in older adults, who are more vulnerable to COVID-19 and to social isolation.”

While initiatives such as a joint study between Baycrest and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) to study the impact the pandemic and physical distancing has had on the mental health of older adults are underway, we are still in the early days of such studies, and a long way off from offering concrete, evidence based solutions.

Finding a balance between safety while combatting loneliness has been a challenging tightrope to walk, particularly for the front-line workers who are responsible for protecting vulnerable communities. Thankfully with some planning and ingenuity we can work together towards pleasurable in-person dining in COVID-19 that is both delicious and safe.

Making the Most of Patio Season

There is a growing consensus that being outside is good for all of us, especially older adults. A University of Minnesota study showed that time spent in green and blue (near rivers, oceans, and ponds) spaces is vital to the overall well-being of older adults. Jessica Finlay, lead author of this study said, “Accessibility to everyday green and blue spaces encourages seniors to simply get out the door. This in turn motivates them to be active physically, spiritually and socially, which can offset chronic illness, disability and isolation.”

According to a Harvard Medical School Report, time spent in fresh air boosts levels of Vitamin D, linked to the prevention of diseases like osteoporosis, depression, heart attacks, and strokes. It’s also important for our mental health, decreasing anxiety, and increasing overall happiness. This might also be why, across the board in nightlife and fine dining, venues that include rooftop space, patio, and garden seating have seen a surge in popularity with offering patrons outdoor options.

During COVID-19, alfresco dining has allowed for many businesses to stay afloat from small businesses to fast food giants with dining expanding into parking lots, streets, and sidewalks, depending on the municipality. Since the virus can dissipate more easily in an outdoor setting, people are more confident dining outdoors.

Applying outdoor dining to retirement living communities, such as Delmanor, throughout the spring and summer has been a lifeline and safer way to return to some sense of normalcy. Community members can enjoy social distanced visits with family members and friends in a lower-risk environment, outdoors. This summer Delmanor community members were able to enjoy outdoor special events, at a proper social distance, including Peach Festival events, five-star four-course meals on the terrace, outdoor musical performances, visits from the ice cream truck, oyster shucking events, and outdoor wedding anniversary celebrations.

We can rely on outdoor dining for some time and take advantage of warm weather by letting the temperature instead of the date on the calendar decide when to take our meals outside. This includes embracing harvest based outdoor events such as apple festivals to celebrate the arrival of autumn.

Planning for the Return to Indoor Dining

Unfortunately, the nature of Canadian climates will bring people back indoors for the most part by early autumn. By utilizing the stringent guidelines and best practices put forward by Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority (RHRA), Ontario Retirement Communities Association (ORCA), as well as municipal, provincial, and federal governments we have been able to cautiously return to indoor dining, albeit with several safety measures in place. Our hardworking wellness team at Delmanor takes team and community members temperatures each day and each staff member and visitor must also undergo vigorous screening each day before they are permitted to interact with the Delmanor community. The wellness team also maintains a regular COVID-19 testing schedule for all team members.

Planning for social distancing doesn’t just begin in the dining room; staggered dining has allowed us to ensure we are not over-crowding the elevators as people come and go from their meals. Masks are worn in common areas by all staff, visitors, and residents (save for when they’re seated socially distanced at their tables for meals). At Delmanor three separate seatings (instead of the standard two) are offered for meals, and the dining area has been expanded into the dining room, pub, and lounge to allow for ample social distancing of one person or one couple at each table. In addition to the staggered seating all tables are sanitized between each diner and anyone entering the dining room must sanitize their hands before they are seated.

The New Continental Breakfast

While buffets aren’t going to be standard for quite some time, Delmanor has managed to make continental breakfasts work. Coffee stations are manned by trained staff wearing PPEs to serve community members. This ensures less points of contact and a safer breakfast experience. Small changes like this embody a ‘variety is the spice of life’ way of small yet impactful adjustments to boost the morale of older adults.

Unique Challenges for Prospective Community Members

Things have opened for people who are shopping retirement communities during the pandemic, but it’s still a challenge to showcase all the amenities available during tours with heightened safety and infection protection protocol. Teams need to innovate in sharing what their living experience might look like during, and in a post-Covid world to truly reflect what people can expect. With the cuisine offered at many communities, such as Delmanor, being a focal point of the experience our chefs have prepared take-out food packages for prospective residents to enjoy at home so they can get a sample of the delicious food offered to help them with their decision making process.

What’s Next?

One of the many facets the frontline workers must face is the constant of change, particularly right now. In addition to keeping their social circles small they must keep their fingers on the pulse of COVID-19 developments so they can continue to work together to plan, pivot, and adjust to prevent the impacts of both loneliness and the spread of COVID-19. This is particularly important as we approach flu season and the holidays. An article posted on Companions for Seniors suggests that about one in four people in age ranges from 50 to 80 have said they feel isolated from others at least some of the time. This is further exacerbated by the pandemic. The more we work together and share what we’ve learned from our experiences, the better we can prepare for these realities as we approach the cold weather and what fall and winter brings.

To learn more about Delmanor, visit the company’s website.