In senior living, it’s no longer acceptable to take a lackluster approach to dining.
That’s because a great food program can make or break a senior living community—especially when it comes to occupancy, Greg Roderick, president and CEO of Portland, Oregon-based senior housing provider Frontier Management, suggested during a panel session at Senior Housing News’ recent Dished event in Chicago.
“I do think that a great foodservice program does keep a community at capacity,” Roderick said.
Frontier has seen this happen firsthand at a community in the Pacific Northwest; for similar reasons, Chicago-based Vi has made its food and beverage program a key part of its brand identity.
As the industry looks to attract baby boomers, more providers will need to follow in Frontier and Vi’s footsteps.
At one Frontier community in Bend, Oregon, residents are brewing craft beer by day and enjoying their libations by night—and occupancy has soared as a result.
The community—Aspen Ridge—currently has more than 100 residents, 86 of whom regularly participate in onsite craft brewing. The building’s craft beer program, which has been ongoing for the past five years and originally began with a $23,000 investment in necessary equipment, is “not that expensive,” Roderick posited.
Still, the program singlehandedly changed the culture, and desirability, of Aspen Ridge. When the beer program first started, Aspen Ridge was at 50% occupancy. After just one year, that number jumped to 100%.
“We didn’t advertise any more than we already did,” Roderick said. “We just filled up. Word of mouth got around… [that] this is the coolest place to live.”
Aspen Ridge residents currently brew 12 different beers that they envision, brew and bottle without any heavy lifting from Frontier’s management.
“They’re so bloody busy and then they drink every afternoon,” Roderick said.
The craft beer program seems to be working well for Aspen Ridge, but that doesn’t mean that residents at other senior housing communities would take to it just as well. For this reason, Frontier encourages its residents at all of its communities to pursue their passions, whatever they may be. At one of the provider’s communities, this means keeping and caring for a cow; at another, it means having an olive-pressing program.
“It doesn’t have to be beer,” Roderick said. “It can be almost anything.”
Roderick believes that enabling residents to participate in activities they enjoy has long-lasting benefits for communities in need of an occupancy or morale boost.
“This is really a game changer for a building that needs a little help,” Roderick said.
Creating restaurant spaces
To successfully attract baby boomers, senior living providers should design their dining venues like restaurants.
That’s because one-third of all baby boomers prefer to eat at a restaurant as opposed to at home, and that number is likely to “continuously grow,” Travis Young, a division president at Morrison Community Living, said at Dished. Morrison is a hospitality company that provides dining and other services to over 350 senior living clients.
“We need to be able to create restaurant spaces—not ‘restaurant-like,’” Young explained. “Places where you would go even if you’re not living in that [senior living] community.”
This means that dining venues at senior living communities should look like restaurants aesthetically, in addition to offering the same variety and excitement found at actual restaurants.
“We should throw so much variety into what we’re doing that [residents] don’t even think about [eating somewhere] else,” Young said.
This mentality has taken root at Vi, Steve Sandblom, corporate director of food and beverage at the senior living provider, explained at Dished.
A few years ago, Vi launched a private wine label, Luxus, which “strengthens [its] brand and separates [it] from [its] competition,” Sandblom said.
Vi’s residents expect restaurant-quality wines, he noted, and to offer them anything less would be inconsistent with Vi’s brand.
Above all, senior living providers should remember the power that food and drink has to keep residents satisfied.
“We have a captive audience,” Young said. “[We must] create fun and excitement, [and] use food as a way to do it.”
Written by Mary Kate Nelson