Staff Feature: Mary Cooley, Dining Services Director
This past October, Pennswood Village Dining Services Director Mary Cooley traveled to Minneapolis to attend the prestigious General Mills Champion Council. This council, held at the General Mills headquarters, is an opportunity for invited representatives from different areas of food services to gather and discuss issues, ideas, and solutions to industry related concerns.
For two days, Mary and nine other food industry professionals brought to the table their extensive knowledge and expertise, from hospitality services and restaurants, to hotels and corporate dining. It’s a great way for a variety of industry experts to solve the issues at hand.
“I’m really happy that I was able to participate,” Mary says. “It gives you a view into the industry, not only just my segment, but beyond that as well. It’s a chance to talk to my peers.”
Mary has been working at Pennswood Village for the past eight years and is a registered dietician. She oversees the dining program at Pennswood that prepares up to 30,000 meals per month for over 400 residents and 400 staff in four different dining rooms. “We have a tremendous staff and culinary team,” says Mary. “They are able to meet the needs of all of our residents, which can be pretty diverse at times.”
One topic of focus at the meeting was to determine a customer-first design process. Rather than taking a business-first approach in trying to determine what customers want to buy, the council discussed problems customers regularly face that they can help to solve.
Laurie Demeritt, CEO of Hartman Group, a food and beverage industry leader, gave a presentation to the group about evolving industry trends, statistics, shifting food cultures and more. Her presentation focused heavily on the changing way we look at food. Instead of families viewing cooking as a chore, many more Americans are seeing food as an enjoyable opportunity for all family members to get involved, from shopping and prep, to cooking and cleanup.
On the other hand, they also found that about 46% of all meals consumed in the United States throughout the day are eaten alone. This may be because of the lack of meal structure that many have taken on in today’s busy society. Instead of eating regularly scheduled breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, we are eating many snacks and smaller meals instead.
However, when it comes to community living, it’s easy to find neighbors and friends with whom to share each meal. Residents still remain busy with their daily activities, but there is always an opportunity to visit any of the dining rooms for a social meal.
“When we approach our dining program, it goes way beyond the food,” says Mary. At Pennswood, Mary often collaborates with resident committees to create exciting dining events that get residents out of their kitchen at home and into the dining room for socializing, entertainment, and nutritious meals. One popular dining event is the monthly birthday dinners that celebrate different themes from seasons ( A Taste of Fall) to travel (A Trip through Greece) to just plain fun (The Royal Wedding). Another popular dinner is the Robert Burns dinner that happens in January. This event includes bagpipes, a marching of the haggis, poetry readings, singing, dancing, and more.
Mary has taken valuable information from her visit to the General Mills Headquarters, and is able to apply these ideas and strategies every day to dining services at Pennswood Village.
“Different segments deal with different challenges. This cross channeling of information is what I find valuable. You can’t find that any place else.”
To learn more about Mary Cooley and Pennswood Village dining services, call us today at 866-740-4977.