Senior living, assisted living – call it what you want but what’s most important is understanding that colloquial nursing homes and long-term care has faded both as terms of choice and a sought-after format among today’s aging population. Following suit, senior foodservice continues to move away from medical-style dining with food served on trays in favor of resident-desired restaurant-style programs.
Driven by the aging Baby Boomer population, this generation demands changes in the landscape around them, says Jaclyn Morgan of JM Foodservice Consulting LLC. Morgan is a Management Advisory Service consultant and associate member of the Foodservice Consultants Society International. “Today’s aging population demands the change for themselves and their elders as well,” she says.
When people select an elder care facility, odor and food represent two of their main considerations. “If the place smells weird, that is right away a turn-off,” says Morgan. “In-room and tray dining programs are another turn-off to residents right now.” Resident satisfaction scores are far lower when tray programs are in place vs. a restaurant-style program, she adds.
“Food is a social experience,” explains Morgan. “It’s an exciting event, something to do three times a day, and allows everyone to get to know each other in the community. Residents are demanding more flexibility and variety than a typical medical approach offers.”
Morgan outlines what a restaurant-style program looks like in a senior living facility:
- Residents order from a menu
- Facility staff assume the role of wait staff, taking orders and serving
- China (no trays)
- Water goblets (no giant plastic hospital-type insulated mugs)
- Medium-weight flatware, reminiscent of what you’d find in a fine dining establishment
“It’s about upgrading each piece to move toward restaurant style,” says Morgan.
While upgrading to a restaurant-style approach, resident needs must still factor into design. Components that Morgan points out to consider include tabletops high enough to accommodate wheelchairs, easily cleanable dining chairs, and a space — almost like an extra parking lot — to accommodate walkers and wheelchairs.
Back of the House Considerations
In the back of the house, Morgan says cooking with only a steamer, convection oven and a range isn’t going to work anymore. She recommends gaining input from the executive chef prior to designing the kitchen and specifying the equipment package. “Get the buy-in first from everyone at the facility,” she says. “Realize that space will be limited. Foodservice often ends up being cut in architect’s drawings. Keep in mind the goal is to make sure the dining experience is excellent.”
Morgan looks to combi ovens as one solution, since they take the place of two pieces of equipment, as well as ventless cooking pieces for those instances where space represents a key consideration.
A lot of facilities continue to add cafes and bistros for grab-and-go options. Even bars have become part of the mix at some sites. Not every facility can secure a liquor license, notes Morgan, but some house wine, beer, etc., in personal lockers for residents. “It’s another fun, social opportunity, even if mocktails are served, happy hour is very trendy,” she says.
“The end goal is a hospitality feel. As long as that is taken into consideration, you’ll hit everything that needs to be considered,” Morgan says.