Debbie Howard of Senior Living Smart offers up her 15 years of marketing and sales experience in the senior living space to bring you the latest in assisted living dining trends.
The sushi and cappuccino set may not be on our doorstep today, but more choice and personalization of the dining experience is at the forefront of operators, investors, architects and designers’ radar. According to “The Big Boom Theory: What The Boomer Consumer Wants,” a focus group of future prospects revealed that two of the top 12 features desired in a senior community setting related to the dining experience. Multiple dining venues was identified as the second most requested feature and having a pub/bar onsite was also specifically identified.
Trends in New Dining Environments
“There are several trends we see in Assisted Living communities today that we did not see 5 to 10 years ago,” says Ula Zusman, owner of Kwalu. “Coffee shops and internet cafés are becoming an example of how high-end hospitality design can transcend to senior housing. We are seeing an increase in this for both the visitors and for the residents who have become more tech savvy. Bistros and delis are very popular. Many allow for all-day dining. Some even offer grab-and-go options where residents can walk in, choose a sandwich or salad and move on with the rest of their day.”
The Emergence of Dining Al Fresco
“Outdoor dining options, in many states, are on the rise. The indoor-outdoor concept is gaining in popularity, as well. Research shows the impact of nature-themed art and the natural element cannot be underestimated with regards to its impact on resident or patient mood, their perception of pain and their overall well-being. Outdoor settings can have a calming effect, resulting in decreased blood pressure and lower stress levels,” says Zusman. “Selections of color palette, themes and fabrics are increasingly being based on the exterior landscape of the specific geographical location, such as mountains, deserts, woodlands, oceans and lakes. These, together with the views of nature, are becoming more common components as are indoor/outdoor rooms that combine elements of both.”
Let the Sun Shine In
“If there are awnings to reduce glare, natural light is a welcome addition to any dining or common area,” says Zusman. “There is a strong move away from heavy window treatments in these areas, unless it is needed for sound absorption. The improved lighting is associated with an improved calorific intake and the decrease in a need for supplements. It’s also been linked to an increase in sociability, better sleep habits and a better quality of life for the residents.”
ROI of Investing in Reinventing the Dining Experience
Dining innovation is of great interest to capital providers as well, according to Aaron D’Costa, Director of Senior Living Acquisitions for Virtus Real Estate Capital. “As a capital provider with an operational focus, the resident dining experience is an area of great interest to us. Whether it’s offering cafés as fast casual dining venues, offering open seating instead of the rigid two-seating meal schedule, or even offering dignity through more appealing presentations of mechanically soft foods, we look at how our operating partners are adapting the dining experience to changing consumer expectations.”
Following Other Industries
The cruise and hotel industry has faced similar consumer demand years ago and adjusted their approach to remain relevant. Just as formal diners with assigned seating is a thing of the past in the cruise industry, gathering residents three times a day in the same dining venue with assigned seating and cycle menus will not remain relevant for long.
For more insights into dining trends, watch the recent webinar from Senior Living SMART.
What innovative ways is your community enhancing residents’ dining experiences? Please share in the comments below.
About the Author
Deborah Howard has more than 20 years of experience in sales and marketing with the last 15 years dedicated to the senior living industry. Working through the ranks from community level sales, to a regional director, a divisional vice president and most recently a national vice president with the fifth largest senior living company in the United States has given her a unique perspective and skill set. Having worked in both the privately held and publicly owned arenas, Deborah has come to believe that the best interests of the residents are served by the responsive, high-touch accessibility best provided by independent operators of all sizes.