Finally had to join the forum so I could chime in on this one. I have been working back in an actual restaurant for over a year now, but I originally left the job to work in a local nursing home for over 2 years. We had a long term care facility, short term care, as well as a small independent living section. All three received breakfast/ lunch/ and dinner served out of 2 separate kitchens within the facility. It was a good gig for a while, but after a couple years, I gave up on trying to change certain things I did not have the authority to change, and back to the grind I went. As for advice, I have plenty:
1. Find a Mentor- In my case, it was not the actual cooking I needed to learn. It was understanding the how and why I was supposed to be doing things a new way. For my first month I was scheduled working side by side with a woman who had worked in the building for 20+ years. She had her own shortcuts and what not, but she taught me how to do everything the way it needed to be done there. Not just for the sake of the resident's food, but also their well being.
2. Learn from Everyone- I have never had issues doing as I was told, but I always ask why. Not to be defiant, but just to understand why I am doing things the way I am doing them. Where I worked my boss, the dietitian, as well as therapists, nurses, and even the residents themselves were all very helpful.
3. Follow the Rules- This is not your average restaurant, where small health code violations slide, and your average customer is a healthy middle aged adult. Every dietary rule is in place for a reason, and when the facility has its annual inspection the come down hard on everything. Every item need to be labeled/dated, and thrown away after a set number of days, and that's assuming it is heated and cooled by the book. If a person is on a pureed diet or needs to drink a fluids of a certain consistency, you have no choice but to abide. Yes a poor little old lady may be on honey thick fluids (think snot in a bottle) and if she asks you for water you probably wont be able to help her. She could aspirate and die and you would be the one getting screwed in the end.
4. Slow down- The hustle and bustle of a real kitchen is gone. The atmosphere in these places is exactly as you would expect....laid back. More than likely you will be expected to take your time, and it will be encouraged to stop and interact with the residents. Where I worked I would get my ass chewed out for not talking to Mrs. T for a half hour, about her broken hip. Those interactions are are important to the residents. A lot of them know they are not going anywhere. Some of them have no family left. Treat them all like they are your parents or grand parents, and you could make there day.
5. Take pride in your work- Where I worked this was my biggest issue with the other employees. The crap that they would throw on a plate and call food would straight up piss me off, and was a big factor in my decision to finally leave for good. Essentially every meal these people eat could be their last, and in my opinion they deserve that to show in the food they eat. They don't have much going for them. Sure the have some friends and family visit, and some lame activities the facility plans for them, but other than that there's not much. 3 times a day it's time to eat, and I promise you it can make or break their day. Not just the taste of the food, but how the plate looks, how it smells, the dining room atmosphere. 3 times a day 365 days a year they will eat food prepared by you and the other cooks, and they really do deserve the best you can give them.
Any more questions, let me know. I'll keep an eye on this thread as it hits pretty close to home. All though I had a certain amount of anger and resentment towards certain people and political aspects of the institutionalized setting, I definitely miss a lot of things about it as well...