There’s an incorrect yet commonly held stereotype that senior living communities are where older adults go to wither away at the end of their lives.
The same stereotype can even apply to people who work in senior living dining, according to Resort Lifestyle Communities (RLC) Executive Chef Jonathon Bolton.
“There is a saying that senior living is where chefs go to retire,” Bolton told Senior Housing News. “But that could be nothing further from the truth.”
For Bolton, who heads up the culinary program at RLC’s Daniel Pointe Retirement Community in Charleston, South Carolina, seeing is believing. He frequently posts food photos on LinkedIn and other social media sites in an effort to show the world that senior living dining can be just as sexy as anywhere else in the larger culinary landscape.
“There’s no easier way to show people exactly what we do than a picture,” Bolton said. “We’re executing dishes that the highest-end restaurants out there are doing, and I want to provide proof of that.”
Attracting and retaining culinary talent is a crucial and difficult proposition for any senior living provider, and is a necessity for RLC as the company expands.
The Lincoln, Nebraska-based company recently opened Huntley Springs Retirement Resort, a 128-apartment independent living community in Huntley, Illinois, with dining options that include a 24-hour chef’s pantry and a happy hour lounge. Overall, the provider currently has 45 communities in its portfolio, according to its website.
Armed with an iPhone and some photo editing tools, Bolton has snapped and shared shots of creamy pastas, colorful salads and decadent desserts. His updates aren’t on a regular schedule, but Bolton said he shares new food photos with RLC roughly each week.
While the practice is a source of pride for Bolton, it’s also helped RLC recruit new chefs and better train the ones it currently employs, he explained. Bolton also gave a lecture on the topic of food photography and social media networking at the most recent RLC chef conference.
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“If I’m looking for a sous chef or a line chef … I want them to feel that they’re not taking a step back in their career,” Bolton said. “I can showcase our food photos to show them that this is what we’re actually doing.”
For other senior living culinarians looking to take and share similar photos, Bolton offers the following tips:
— Practice proper presentation. Bolton uses a black backdrop, good lighting and a white plate in most of his photos in order to make the food the centerpiece of the presentation. The overall look should be “concise, precise and clean,” and similar to what you’d serve a resident during a meal.
“I’ll take about 20 different photos of each dish from all different angles,” he said. “Then I’ll come back later and choose the best photos.”
— Appeal to the senses. Food shouldn’t just taste good, it should look good. To that end, Bolton usually photographs colorful food with garnishes included.
“When you order a dish at a restaurant, the first thing you do is judge with your eyes,” Bolton said. “Nothing represents a menu better or gets those hunger juices flowing than seeing a nice tasty-looking dish.”
— Don’t rely on “digital wizardry.” Computers can make a great food photo even better, but they can’t make a poor food photo look great. To that end, photographers should avoid relying on photo editing tools too much, and instead focus on framing photos and plating food well.
“No amount of digital wizardry is going to fix [a bad photo],” Bolton said. “It’s all in your setup.”
The trend of posting food pictures online is not a new one. But it is notable as the senior living industry adopts more practices from the consumer-facing restaurant world. And, food photography can be a powerful marketing tool, given that the phenomenon has impacted everything from menus to restaurant design.
“Social media is today’s marketing,” Bolton said. “And a lot of it is free advertising, so why not capitalize on it?”