Microfarms, Speakeasies, Robotics: Kisco, Commonwealth Envision Future of Senior Living Dining

The future of dining in senior living will include more locally-sourced ingredients, resident-facing technology and a rise in resident choice. 

Senior living operators including Commonwealth Senior Living and Kisco Senior Living are using technologies to improve their ability to offer better, healthier food and a more enjoyable experience in their dining rooms.

For example, Commonwealth Senior Living has implemented hydroponic gardens from Babylon Micro-Farms in 25 of its communities, and is actively rolling them out in more. The gardens are both a culinary selling point as well as an engagement point for residents, according to Bob Raymond, Commonwealth’s VP of dining services.


“I wanted something that looked sexy … we’re bringing sexy back to dining services,” Raymond said during a panel discussion at the recent Senior Housing News t DISHED/WELLNESS event in Orlando.

For Charlottesville, Virginia-based Commonwealth, “bringing sexy back” not only includes the addition of hydroponic farming but also adding robots into communities and creating menus that elevate local cuisine and give residents as many options as possible.

Carlsbad, California-based Kisco is also focused on resident choice, and on reducing food waste.


The operator partnered with another company to help it cut down on food waste. Although the primary goal was to “not add additional waste to landfills,” doing so also improved the quality of its culinary offerings, according to National Director of Culinary Services Randall Lonoza.

Farm-fresh fare

Raymond and Commonwealth first began looking into hydroponics about six years ago. Initially, the tech involved wasn’t very pleasing to look at.

“I wanted it to be attractive, not only for the visual of growing the freshest products that we can in-house but from a sales and marketing standpoint,” said Raymond.

Then came Babylon Micro-Farms. Through the Richmond, Virginia-based company’s gardens, residents of Commonwealth can dine on farm-fresh produce grown in their communities. Residents can also pitch in and help plant or harvest the produce themselves, and staff can monitor progress from an app on their phone.

“The residents do all of the seed selections,” Raymond said. “From seed to harvest, Commonwealth is in charge.”

Though Commonwealth didn’t add the microfarms to cut costs, they have “paid for [themselves] on a monthly basis” in terms of resident engagement, Raymond said.

“There’s nothing more phenomenal than watching residents engage,” he added.

Commonwealth is still rolling the concept out to more communities, and the operator is working with Babylon on improving the concept with every iteration.

“We’ve gone from version 1.0 now to version 3.0, which is slimmer, sleeker and even sexier than the initial ones that we did,” Raymond said.

Outside of using Babylon, Commonwealth also sources food from 47 different farms — even local anglers.

“We have a program called ‘Today from the Bay’ in the Chesapeake Bay [where] we outsource with 11 fishing vessels,” Raymond said. “It’s caught locally and in our communities within 24 hours.”

As national culinary director, Lonoza is also focusing on a wide array of locally sourced fare at Kisco’s communities. Specifically, the operator gives community dining leaders the leeway to buy locally and make their own decisions in that regard.

“Any time that you’re able to … [source food] within 100 miles of where you’re located is going to be a benefit to your community,” he said. “And it’s just something that we’re really proud of.”

Lonoza added that Kisco residents have “three to five different menu options within a single community.”

Tech revolution

Another big trend in senior living dining has been the implementation of robots and other tech-forward devices. Commonwealth Senior Living has spent time piloting Servi bots from Bear Robotics in its dining rooms, and most residents have already accepted them as part of normal community life.

“I wanted to look at something that was multi-use,” Raymond said. “When we’re not using it in the dining rooms we could use it for delivering sundries, for cleaning.”

Now, robotics has the ability to ease some labor issues while improving the day-to-day work of staff, allowing staff to spend more time caring for residents. In addition to the continued implementation of robots in communities, software solutions like the online dining reservation service, OpenTable, are finding their way to senior living.

Other operators are also exploring using apps and services typically meant for consumers within their communities. For example, Kisco Senior Living has evaluated using online reservation service OpenTable to allow residents to reserve a table in their community’s dining room.

“Let’s say you had to limit one of the sections due to a call-off for a server, the resident won’t necessarily see that – they’re just going to see which tables are available,” Lonoza said.

As Kisco evaluates the utility of using OpenTable, the Carlsbad, California-based operator is rolling out its own dining app that will serve as a point-of-sale solution and as a hospitality touchpoint.

The app will allow staff to update a resident’s profile with specialized information to personalize and improve their experience.

“If our front desk customer service representatives say ‘Hey, Mrs. Smith is celebrating the birth of her third great-granddaughter,’ that will link directly over to our dining venues,” Lonoza said. “Even a server on day one would be able to look at the resident’s profile and help celebrate that with them on the spot.”

Solving for workforce, culinary design

Senior living operators are grappling with rising costs and workforce shortages. But, Kisco’s Lonoza believes that senior living has a lot to offer food industry workers — if they can attract them first.

“I’ve had executive chefs of restaurants … or food and beverage directors from hotels reaching out and saying, ‘Hey, what’s the senior living gig all about?’” he said. “Ultimately, people are kind of sick and tired of getting out at one or two o’clock in the morning, and we can be that answer for them.”

Once workers are in the door, operators must also train and retain them. Commonwealth uses online senior living education platform Pineapple Academy to train workers, and Raymond it has reduced turnover by about 22%.

Both operators are also focused on improving how culinary spaces are designed.

Kisco takes the approach of allowing communities to handle how dining rooms look and feel – and that creates more unique spaces.

“We view the dining venues individually in each community,” he said.

In the future, he sees communities that have three to five venues with additional options like a pub – or even a speakeasy that hosts events that are spread by word of mouth only.

Kisco is also looking at adding more glass walls to kitchens to give residents a window inside.

Looking ahead, both Raymond and Lonoza are excited about what the future will bring in senior living dining programs. In the meantime, they are looking to get back to some of the standards they had set before the pandemic started.

“Covid is behind us, and we need to go back to where we were in 2019,” Raymond said.

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