Enhancing Casual Dining Experiences by Offering Alternative for Assisted Living Food Services

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Photo of a food service-managed casual dining event on the patio of an assisted living community.

Glendale Senior Dining, the senior dining management division of Café Services, is well-tuned to food preferences for older adults and seniors. The management team of Glendale Senior Dining, currently partnered with 26 locations in 5 New England states, manages a host of different disciplines related to assisted living foodservice. Disciplines include assisted living, independent living, skilled nursing, memory care, congregate living, specialty care, and continuing care retirement communities (CCRC).

Senior Living Dining Service Trends

Photo of appetizers prepared by food management service for assisted living community.

Working with dietitians, Glendale’s chefs prepare and serve delicious meals to long-term care residents. But fresh healthy meals are only part of the assisted living dining management equation. In addition to changing dress code requirements, there’s a shift happening with structured meal dining management services.

Photo of Glendale's assisted living food service management team.

Glendale Senior Dining excels at offering full dining management services in senior living environments. Todd Lindsay, the director of business development for Glendale Senior Dining, said there is a shift occurring in senior dining food management, in part because of a new population moving into senior housing – the Baby Boomers. Dining options are evolving and it’s becoming more common that having flexibility with when and where to eat is favored above having specific times and places for meals. Baby Boomers want dining options and choices, such as all-day dining and different types of venues.

The Ever-Growing Opportunity for Serving Meals in Senior Housing Venues

Photo of casual food service station in assisted living community.

There’s a transition from the formal dining rooms to more casual dining service happening, addressing the unpopular regiment of a 5 o’clock dinner. This Forbes article is focused on finding the right living arrangement, but it has a brief reference about how 5:00 dinner can feel like camp.

Todd said, “Often times, in an assisted living dining room, if there’s a guest, either the guest may feel uncomfortable there [in the formal dining room], or the guest may be sitting in a seat a resident normally sits in, and it can cause a little friction. A casual dining venue gives everybody the option of not interfering with what goes on in the dining room, but still being able to have a nice visit and a nice meal while they are there.”

For several years now, Glendale Senior Dining has been the food service company for OceanView, a retirement community in Falmouth, Maine. This retirement community is comprised of an assisted living dining room, an independent living dining room, and memory care dining services. Each dining management service is in a different building. On the same campus was a small coffee/sandwich shop operation and Glendale and OceanView realized an opportunity to expand the small dining service area’s footprint.

“The Gazebo Grille,” Todd said, “has become a venue where the resident and guest population can go. And just as important is when someone’s family is going to be visiting, everyone likes the non-structured capabilities and flexibility that this venue offers.”

Gazebo Grille currently offers fantastic lunch foods. Todd said, “There is no specific time frame for food. You can walk in there and have a nice lunch. You can get a cup of coffee and a pastry. There’s no real rhythm in terms of the time, which is highly structured in the dining room. We offer fantastic food choices, including 2-3 freshly made soups, a fresh daily quiche, some really delicious sandwiches, salads, chef specials, and more.”

Guests feel more comfortable in the café-like environment compared to the structured dining room, too. “The overall message here is that there are no rules,” Todd said. “Residents can come and go as they please. They can have guests. They can dine there, or take food to go. It’s up to them.”

Photo of a plate of home made cookies by the assisted living food service.

Glendale and OceanView recently doubled the interior space of Gazebo Grille. What was initially seating for about 15 is now seating for up to 40. And seating spills out onto an outdoor space with umbrella tables and a grill. During the nice summer months, the new patio seating can accommodate another 25 people. “Residents loved it,” Todd said. “We had a super nice summer, and the patio seating got a lot of use. People got out there and enjoyed themselves.”

Expanding Senior Dining Management Services

To give perspective to the casual, retail-dining option, Todd said, “Most people didn’t grow up going to dinner in their home, having fresh linen, fresh flowers, real silverware, and crystal on the tables at dinner time.” The lifelong experience can make the formality of what these communities offer a bit overwhelming. He said, “Sometimes people just want to be able to sit down to a nice meal. They don’t need linen on the table because it’s not what they grew up with. They would rather see that used for special occasions and holiday celebrations. By having a much more casual, almost a Panera-type of an alternative, we’re seeing its success and the potential for other clients.”

Photo of coffee station in assisted living food service program.

Glendale is currently working with several other senior living communities and retirement homes that want to offer an alternative, retail-style dining option for their residents, residents’ families, and even for employees, in addition to the standard formalized dining rooms.

Offering Alternatives with Senior Dining Food Service

With its casual dining grill becoming so popular, OceanView’s Gazebo Grille is transitioning again. “We are now expanding the hours to include dinner time,” Todd said.

Like the food for the formal dining rooms, food for Gazebo Grille is being skillfully prepared in the main onsite kitchen at OceanView. So, the offerings are always fresh and top quality.

Photo of grab-n-go items in assisted living food service dining area.

Gazebo Grille has a refrigerated air screen merchandiser in the café. “We keep it full of premade salads and sandwiches, and some grab-and-go items such as yogurt, milk, juice, and fresh fruit,” Todd said. “So, now someone also has the option to pick up some food and take it back their residence.”

Assisted Living Casual Dining Venues – One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Glendale looks at each location on a very individual basis to help them accomplish their strategic initiatives, because there are no two locations that are the same. Each community has its needs and wants list and Glendale works with them very strategically to help them get to that next level, whatever that level may be. The team listens to the client, discovers where they are now, helps them determine if casual dining is a viable alternative for their campus, and then designs and implements a road map so the client can achieve their goal.

“And that’s how we work,” Todd said. “It’s good old-fashioned roll up your sleeves problem solving, hard work, and listening.”

The Glendale Senior Dining management team is very accessible and two-way communication with the client is a priority. Todd said, “There aren’t many layers. It doesn’t really matter who you talk to at Glendale, you’re going to get the same response, whether it’s the district manager, the company president, me, or anybody else. We all work very closely together and our response time is excellent. We turn things around very quickly.”

Expanding Traditional Dining Services to Casual Dining Venues Creates Opportunities

Photo of pastries made by the assisted living food service team.

Senior living communities need to consider their residents and guests when it comes to senior dining food options. The total number of diners can be significant. Casual dining venues are beneficial in that they are flexible. There aren’t any specific rules for size, location of venue, times of operation, types of food to offer, how many seats are required, or who can take advantage.

“You can walk into it like any café,” Todd said. “You can have a coffee, a lunch, a dessert, whatever you want and you’re not sitting in somebody’s seat. It can be awkward sometimes in a dining room because residents typically sit in the same seat, at the same table for every meal. Martha comes down expecting to sit with Gladys but Gladys has her son-in-law and her daughter there, and then Martha is left asking, ‘Where am I supposed to eat now?’”

Photo of ice cream station at assisted living community prepared by the food service management team.

The casual dining venues work on a host of different levels.

CCRCs, independent living, assisted living, and memory care communities wanting to meet the needs of their residents can expand the senior living foodservice management options to include the casual dining alternative.