The old saying “variety is the spice of life” is being embraced by more and more senior living operators in the dining programs they offer residents. One Atlanta-based food service operator’s new dining program for senior living communities is serving dinner with a side of fine arts, as part of an effort to not only feed but fully engage residents.
Morrison Community Living is a provider of food services, nutrition and wellness, and hospitality management services to more than 500 senior living communities across 42 states.
Its new themed dining program, titled Encore, pairs 12 different performing arts and activities with its monthly menus.
For example, October’s theme was focused on opera and featured dishes created in honor of singers. Meals such as Luiza Tetrazzini, a play on the Italian dish turkey tetrazzini, would be served, while a live opera singer entertained residents as they ate dinner.
This aspect of combining meals with an engaging element is central to the dining Morrison curates for its senior living community clients, according to Laura Knight, vice president of marketing and communications at Morrison.
“You can have the best-tasting meal, but you’ve got to get your residents out of their room,” she told Senior Housing News.
This approach to dining as part of a larger experience also is on-trend—there is an emerging “experience economy,” according to event technology platform Eventbrite. The company has collected data showing that the majority of people are even willing to pay more for “unique dining experiences.”
A holistic benefit
For Knight, themed dining programs provide a holistic benefit, in addition to promoting nutrition and wellness for seniors, who undergo major life changes as they age.
“They’ve potentially lost a spouse or a friend, and that engagement is critical in getting them out of their room,” Knight said. “It combats depression, it combats malnutrition.”
In addition, the themed dining program affords an opportunity for senior living providers to broaden their residents’ cultural awareness, according to Morgan Osbaldeston, marketing specialist at Morrison. This was also a goal of Morrison’s “A Meal in the Life” theme from 2016.
“We wanted something to be reflective of a diverse resident so having a performing arts with the food would let us explore a lot of different cultures,” she said. “[The] themes within Encore go traditional with opera to something more obscure like pantomime. It really lets us explore some existing memories, but it also lets us explore some new cultures and experiences.”
Further, the program allows residents to reconnect with the arts.
“Just because you’re moving into a community, you shouldn’t lose that connection,” Knight said. “A lot of our residents don’t drive anymore so [this dining program] brings that to them.”
More than just food
The Encore dining menus curated by Morrison can be customized to meet the needs of a senior living community. Senior living operators are able to download all materials—including recipes, menu and related marketing materials promoting the themed meals—on the company’s proprietary My Marketing Plan portal.
“[We] make sure that our themes aren’t just appropriate for independent living residents, but for all levels of care,” Knight said.
The program is a value-add to existing clients and comes at no extra cost, according to Osbaldeston. Also, while some communities may not be able to bring a live opera singer onsite, the activities paired with the themed dining program can be customized.
“The manager’s guides that we develop give different options for different budget levels, in terms of the activities,” she said.
Overall, the program becomes more than just about creating meals for residents—it fosters team work among all staff members.
“This is a great program for us to work with other departments at the communities to work with the activities department,” Osbaldeston said. “We can really make this more than just about dining and coming in to eat and make it more of an experience.”
The program can also become a recruiting tool for communities, according to Knight.
“When you look at the day in the life of our residents and look at food, it’s one of the driving factors of why a resident would choose one community over another,” Knight said. “It has to be more than about the food.”
Written by Carlo Calma