7 Tips for a Successful Shift in the Dining Room

Northbridge’s “A Day in the Life” series offers a unique window into the lives of the dedicated and passionate associates ensuring residents live well and love life every day. 

My day with Dining Room Manager, Nicole at Bayberry at Emerald Court started early, was spent entirely on my feet and was filled with tips and tricks for a successful shift in the Dining Room.

Nicole has been at Bayberry for 8 years, the last 5 as Dining Room Manager. She is one of the most recognizable faces around Bayberry.  Nicole treats her residents like family. She can tell you everything from how they like their coffee, to what program you are most likely to find them attending.  I had the pleasure of shadowing Nicole for the breakfast and lunch shifts.  These are the tips and tricks I have to share with you!

  1. Meals have official and unofficial start times.

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, people sitting, table, outdoor and foodI arrive in the Bayberry dining room 15 minutes before breakfast starts. I’m surprised so many people are buzzing around the room.  Looking at the tables I notice most residents have already found their seat. They are enjoying a cup of coffee, if not their usual breakfast.  I approach Nicole and introduce myself. She tells me that although breakfast is not supposed to officially start for 15 minutes, some residents get anxious and come down early.

2. The unspoken words, signs and signals.

In the middle of the first seating breakfast rush, just as I’m starting to ask Nicole a little about herself I see her eyes scanning the dining room. My eyes follow hers as they land on a resident signaling toward us. Nicole excuses herself from our conversation. She grabs the coffee pot, and says, “someone needs more coffee” before heading toward the resident. Approaching the table she says, “need a little more coffee Betty*?” I watch as Betty smiles, nodding and pushes her cup closer to Nicole.

Throughout breakfast and lunch most residents raise a hand when they need something or gesture for Nicole to get her attention. Nothing out of the ordinary-until second seating of lunch.

Approaching the table with Nicole I watch as she assists a couple placing their order.  I met this couple at breakfast and remember Heidi*, the wife, orders for both her and her husband, Bruce*. Nicole looks to Heidi first when asking for the orders. Heidi places her order then turns toward her husband. She places his order, looking to him for confirmation.  As Heidi is placing Bruce’s order he lifts his hands to stop her, letting her know he wants to adjust the order.  As Heidi attempts to translate what it is her husband wants, Nicole politely intervenes.  She says, “Bruce do you want the soup instead of the salad?” Bruce nods his head and Heidi looks toward Nicole saying, “not even I could understand that.” Nicole throws the couple a sweet nod and continues to the next table to take their order. This leaves a smiling Heidi and happy Bruce able to continue enjoying their lunch.

3. Unassigned, assigned seats-It’s a thing and it’s real.

No matter what Northbridge community I visit, I find myself asking about dining room seating.  Experience has taught me that although you won’t find anyone’s name on the back of a chair, and no matter how hard associates try to change it up – the seats in the dining room are always occupied by the same people.  In some communities, residents wait (somewhat) patiently outside the dining room before being let in. In other communities, residents will sneak in early to place something on their chair. Those with loyal table mates never have to worry about losing their seat, someone always saves it for them. There are a few things you do not want to stand in the way of in the dining room: a resident entering the dining room with their eyes set on their table, a server with a tray full of food, and a resident saving a seat for their friend. The heartwarming part is watching residents welcome newcomers to join their table.

4. Know how I like my eggs, but don’t tell me how to order them.

Nicole can tell you what foods most residents prefer.  Shadowing her for the day I notice she never tells anyone what she thinks they should get. I ask Nicole about this, and she tells me that it’s comforting to know what residents usually get because she can help if they get stuck. It is also important to never assume someone will get their usual.  Doing that takes away their opportunity to choose and a piece of Image may contain: 2 people, food and indoortheir independence.

5. Keep calm.

Easier said than done.  When you are trying to get all your starters out, a resident is waving you over, and you have two orders ready in the kitchen- staying calm isn’t easy.  Shadowing Nicole throughout the day I noticed that nothing rattled her.  Not having a family member arrive unexpectedly to dine in, or having a new breakfast order come in and filling it right away to send to an apartment.  With over eight years of experience on her side, it’s second nature to for Nicole to handle any surprises throughout the day. She knows how important it is to keep calm throughout her shift. Nicoles focus is customer service and providing the best experience for residents and families.

6. The unofficial job description.

Following Nicole from table to table it’s easy to see the individual relationships she has with residents.  I experienced it first hand when we approached a gentleman sitting by himself at a back table. Nicole asked about his wife, who she knows that he visits after breakfast.

Nicole is able to list the people who always go on outdoor picnic trips with the Dining Associates in the summer.  After noticing a resident had stepped out of the dining room for longer than usual, she let other associates know to check on them.  These are not listed on her job description but come second nature to her. It’s how she cares for the residents.

7. You will feel like you have hundreds of grandparents-embrace it

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, outdoor and text

Having someone shadow you for the day draws attention from residents. Most of them had interesting comments to make when they learned I was shadowing Nicole. Some were sarcastic, “I was wondering when you would start to work” others joking, “she’s not that nice” but all came from a place of love. A love for Nicole and all she does for the community.  She admits that it feels like she has one hundred grandparents. Even her two kids feel comfortable whenever they visit.  The sense of family goes both ways. I saw it first hand when more than one resident asked about Nicole’s family and “how the little monsters were doing.”


  • *names have been changed for privacy

If you or someone you know could benefit from the wonderful way of life at Bayberry at Emerald Court call 978.640.0194 or click here to visit our website!


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