Three Ways Senior Living Can Customize The Dining Experience

Courtesy Garden Spot Village

As the senior housing population changes and providers make way for the resident of the future, many operators are focusing on amenities to attract this new resident.

And with baby boomers reaching the target senior housing age over the next two decades, bringing with them new, strong preferences and lots of experience with world travel and culture including cuisine, providers are turning that focus to dining.

Look at any senior housing company website, and it’s likely the community’s dining program is somewhere on the homepage. From sushi stations to demonstration kitchens, senior housing is preparing for a high-variety dining experience that includes multiple venues and lots and lots of choice.

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Here are three ways today’s operators are upping their dining game.

Create a custom wine program

Many providers, where liquor licensing allows, offer wine through their food and beverage programs. At Chicago-based Vi, an operator of several CCRCs nationwide, the company took the wine program a step further to create a private label variety.

By teaming with The Thornhill Companies and Turn Key Wine Brands, which are based in California’s Central Coast wine region, the company now offers a branded house wine called Luxus across its communities.

“Our food and beverage team visited the winery, touring the facilities and seeing how the wine was made,” says Steve Sandblom, corporate director of food and beverage for Vi. “After consulting with sommeliers, four talented winemakers, and many other veterans of the wine industry, we landed on a chardonnay and a merlot, each with a label featuring watercolor art by Vi at La Jolla Village resident Gerald Bischoff.”

Staff also helped come up with the name of the wine, settling on Luxus, which means “luxury” in Latin. Not only can residents proudly enjoy and share Luxus, but there is an operational efficiency as well, Sandblom says.

“Any cost savings are attributed to our negotiated price which can be favorable due to the exclusivity of the wine,” he says.

Offer seating options 

At Garden Spot Village, in New Holland, Pennsylvania, the community’s leadership looked not to senior living dining programs when researching for a dining redesign in 2015, but to restaurants.

Along with the rise of pop-up restaurants and supper clubs, where strangers dine among a common table, many of today’s restaurants feature chef’s tables and communal dining tables. That’s exactly what Garden Spot Village incorporated into its dining design as one of the many seating options for its residents.

“Standard protocol was that you had a certain consumer and needed to provide easy access to them,” says Steve Lindsey, Garden Spot Village CEO. “The interpretation was always: tables with regular dining chairs with sturdy arms. Never booths, never high stools. We really broke through a lot of those stereotypes.”

Today at Garden Spot Village, residents can choose to sit in booths, for more privacy, at a counter, where they can view chefs preparing meals, or at a big, long communal table designed for people who are attending a meal alone.

“Pretty soon, the table is full and it’s one big party,” Lindsey says.

The design also utilizes spacial dividers that create “rooms within the room,” so residents can have a different view and experience each time they dine. The redesign has been so successful, that Garden Spot is now a lunchtime destination for employees of nearby businesses.

Pursue demonstrations and flexible spaces

Demonstration cooking is not new, and it’s not even new to senior living, but increasingly, providers are creating new and different venues where chefs can demonstrate cooking techniques, or can simply converse with diners as they are creating a meal. With demonstration cooking, providers can truly create a different experience at each and every meal.

Communities are doing this through exhibition kitchens, moveable demonstration stations that are equipped with electricity, and pop-up venues that may be located within the community or outdoors.

“You really want to offer options, it’s all about options, option, options,” says Andrey Teleguz, principal with SCOPOS Hospitality Group, based in Ephrata, Pennsylvania. To that end, some providers are even designing venues that can be changed on a regular basis with technology and equity

Like a food court in a mall, stations can offer a choice of Italian food or Asian food simultaneously, which is one avenue. Or the entire space can be flexible enough to accommodate a new design every several months.

“We’ve designed a destination dining restaurant,” Teleguz says of the concept, noting that the menus, uniforms, place settings and artwork change. “Rather than one team, we’d rotate that team. It might be a steak house for three months, then Italian for three months… the whole restaurant would change what it is.”

Want to learn more about more ways to customize the resident experience? Visit SHN’s Resource Center to download our recent report on multi-venue dining:

Written by Elizabeth Ecker