How Liberty Senior Living, ISL, Westminster Evolved for New Era of Dining and Wellness

The future of senior living wellness and dining lies in resident choice, tech-enabled efficiency — and maybe boxing.

These are all examples of strategies operators including Westminster Communities of Florida, Liberty Senior Living and Integral Senior Living (ISL), are exploring or implementing in 2023. They are doing so not only to bolster their wellness and dining programs but also to maintain their bottom lines.

They are doing so as Inflation and labor pressures continue to pummel senior living margins, driving the need for cost-cutting and alternative sources of revenue for senior living communities.


To that end, technology is playing a pivotal role in how operators run dining and wellness programs, with many referencing more data than ever before to generate new revenue and track resident wellbeing.

“You need to be very precise, with a scalpel,” Westminster Communities of Florida Vice President of Resident Experience Mario DeLuca said during a Senior Housing News webinar this week on the future of dining and wellness. “You have to get it right the first time and you have to have discipline.”

New revenue sources, focus on efficiency

With margins compressed, many operators are embracing alternate revenue streams on top of what they already earn from resident rates. They also are trying to become more efficient in all aspects to drive a better bottom line. Food and alcohol sales have been two go-to ways to generate revenue in dining programs.


Residents living at one of Westminster Communities’ 11 locations can order deliveries of food or wine at an extra cost on top of their rates. DeLuca said Westminster is able to do so because of careful planning.

Simply trying a new program “to see what happens is not really a good strategy,” he said on the webinar.

Senior living operators are not only generating more money with food. They are also giving residents the chance to buy additional lifestyle services. Doing so can provide a community with new amenities or services, and charging residents for it means operators can provide those without added operational costs.

Wilmington, North Carolina-based operator Liberty Senior Living, for example, offers residents the chance to buy sessions with personal trainers on top of what they pay each month..

“We provide full exercise programs, group classes, personal training; you name it, we probably have it,” Liberty Senior Living INSPIRE Wellness Director Haley Norris said during the SHN Webinar. “But it wouldn’t be fair, from a cost perspective, for us to bring on a personal trainer and pay them only to have a certain subset of residents utilize the service,”

Other senior living operators like Carlsbad, California-based Services Integral Senior Living (ISL) and its management arm Solstice Senior Living are exploring ways to drive ancillary revenue by bringing in the public, according to National VP of Culinary Services, Amy Robinson.

While ISL’s dining venues are not open to the public, the operator capitalizes on opportunities for members of the community to use its dining facilities as a way to drive revenue.

“The more you can have outside businesses have meetings in that space and supply food and beverages – there’s a rental charge for that space,” Robinson said. “The more we can bring in additional revenue, the better off we’re going to be.”

And the days of senior living communities only offering one dining venue are long gone, Robinson said.

“We’ve been seeing bars popping up everywhere,” Robinson said. She added that not only are the bars licensed liquor distributors but senior living operators are adding additional restaurants and dining areas to their communities.

In the last three years, senior living food costs have ballooned, prompting operators to look for new options.

Westminster expected that the pandemic would make for new economic hardships for operators, and planned accordingly. The company had worked with a certain group purchasing organization (GPO) for many years, but pivoted in response to recent expense trends.

“We did a comparative analysis based on using our main food vendor and did a side-by-side order guide view, then we switched GPOs,” DeLuca said.

DeLuca found that when a certain ingredient was out of stock, the food provider would select the substitute, a process that Westminster didn’t want.

“Although there was a tremendous amount of heavy lifting, there were significant savings through the process,” DeLuca said.

Along those lines, ISL and Westminster have found efficiencies in from-scratch cooking and creative reuse of ingredients.

By making dishes from their most basic ingredients — using fresh spuds for mashed potatoes in lieu of instant, for example — operators can control costs. And by adapting ingredients from a previous meal into a new dish, operators can get the most collective bang for their buck.

Doing so requires discipline and a keen eye for using every part of every ingredient, Robinson said.

“It’s a challenge, but you must focus on waste and utilizing every bit of everything that you have,” Robinson said. “It should be darn-near zero.”

Robots and mobile apps

Tools like robots and mobile apps, once deployed for safety during the Covid-19 pandemic, are now being evaluated for how realistic and useful they are in the post-pandemic era.

Senior living operators have used robotics and tech-enabled platforms to engage residents and keep them safe during the pandemic. In 2023, they are still using those tools — but how they use them is evolving.

Westminster launched a mobile app prior to the outbreak of the coronavirus. And, though participation was good, it wasn’t a needle mover. But when the pandemic hit in 2020, the app became more significant because it gave residents the ability to better communicate with staff.

“The platform grew quickly… who knew that was going to happen?” DeLuca said.

Now, residents can use the app to request maintenance, make reservations and speak with staff.

The usage of robots — such as the Servi food-runners from Bear Robotics — has been a fast-growing trend in senior living communities in recent years. During the pandemic, robots were used in some communities to clean common spaces. In others, operators have used robots to enhance the dining experience.

ISL has looked into incorporating more robots in operations, but Robinson thinks they may not yet be ready for wider use.

“When I looked into robots about six to eight months ago, the tech wasn’t quite there for my needs and what I had envisioned,” Robinson said.

She added that while the cost of labor and inflation are high, adding robots to communities needs to be “everything I need it to be and more.”

Liberty is using wearable technology to track programming attendance among residents. Using that data, the operator can see if residents aren’t attending certain activities and either bolster or sunset those activities accordingly, according to Norris.

Residents want to choose

In 2023, senior living residents are bringing with them new preferences on what they eat, how they exercise and how they have fun.

The choices that residents are making go beyond how they receive calendar invites, though. R

“We provide opportunities for those who do not want to drink,” Norris said. “That’s something that we should consider more – perhaps having a mixologist come to provide mocktails to still allow for that social piece of drinking.”

Regardless of whether the drinks have alcohol or not, Bars are still “popping up everywhere,” said Robinson. The addition of bars is part of a larger trend to provide residents the choice of where they’d like to eat and what they’d like to eat.

Sometimes, residents are choosing old-school methods over more modern ones. For example, while residents at Westminster Communities are utilizing online platforms at a high rate, many of them still prefer pen and paper, according to DeLuca.

Many residents at Liberty do as well, according to Norris.

“Our residents also really prefer the calendars in tangible form,” she said. “They want to hold it. They want to touch it. They want to highlight and mark it.”

Also on that list are punching bags. Both Liberty and Westminster offer boxing classes as a way to get some exercise and tune motor skills, although the residents at Westminster aren’t punching one another, “It’s just the movement,” said DeLuca. “We looked at boxing… and at first I sort of gasped,” he said. “But it was so well received.”

At Liberty Senior Living, boxing is part of its program for patients with Parkinson disease or with similar symptoms because it improves movement and fine motor skills, according to Norris. But, the boxing happening at Liberty is a virtual experience on the Nintendo Wii game console.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Norris said. “The staff participate as well. It’s a lot of fun and can be comical.”

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