Top 7 Senior Living Dining Trends for 2018: Baby Boomers Redefining Living Well in Senior Care Facilities

Photo of active baby boomers at senior living community.

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Baby Boomers are Changing Senior Housing Food Service Programs

Now is the time for senior living communities to change their dining service programs to satisfy the expectations of the baby boomer generation. It’s not that baby boomers will be entering senior housing; baby boomers already are entering senior housing. And baby boomers have lived different lives than their predecessors – they are typically more educated and affluent and have been everywhere and done everything – so their expectations are much different from their parents’.

Glendale Senior Dining helps senior living communities adapt to this new population whose expectations are commonly diametrically opposed to the current population. With their years of experience, Glendale Senior Dining has the resources and ability to get locations up and running quickly with customized programs that appeal to baby boomers.

Senior Living Dining Trend #1: A Dramatically Increased Focus on the Food Service’s Variety and Healthy Food Options

Photo of senior living food service station.

A challenge that senior living facilities must address is satisfying current residents with the three-meals-a-day programming and adjusting to the flexibility baby boomers expect – meals with natural, healthy ingredients.

Baby boomers are looking for variety and options in everything, especially the food service.

Todd Lindsay, the director of business development for Glendale Senior Dining, said, “Baby boomers want to be drawn to the dining room and are interested in restaurant-inspired food ideas and themes.”

Food service management companies must have inspiring menus that involve international cuisine, vegetarian meals, gluten-free foods, vegan menus, branded items, a variety of flavors and colors, and more.

Changing styles and techniques of menu development at senior housing communities

Photo of healthy vegetable stir fry prepared by senior housing food service.

It used to be unheard of to serve a meal in a senior dining facility without meat (protein) on the plate. It used to be frowned upon to have vegetarian food or vegan food. And facilities would not serve international food because residents (a large population of veterans) had no desire to eat any German, Vietnamese, or Japanese cuisine.

“With baby boomers,” Todd said, “there has been a complete shift from 3-squares-a-day to anything-is-game. It’s important to us to have our professional chefs offer a lot of different choices and to be as flexible as possible.”

Residents appreciate a dining service provider who engages with them and is happy to provide meaningful meal substitutions and alternate menu items. There are simply times when someone can pick up a menu, see a variety of choices, such as roasted chicken, lamb chops, pasta, and fresh fish, but be in the mood for a BLT, or a baked potato and a chef’s salad. Part of senior living restaurant offerings is being able to satisfy that type of customer, too.

Photo of a healthy burger prepared by a senior living food service.

Todd said, “Our rule is ‘if it’s in the house, we’ll make it for you.’ We’re more than happy to make something for a resident if they don’t like what’s on the menu without making a big deal out of it. We’d rather that a resident left the dining room and had a good meal than went back to their place and are starving a half hour later just because they happened to not like what was on the menu.”

It’s also important to the residents and their families to have the assurance that residents will always have abundant and nutritious food choices at mealtimes. Glendale Senior Dining’s food service management team is committed to this hospitality goal.

Assurance that senior living food service quality and menu variety are maximized for all meals

Residents and their families are becoming much more vigilant about quality foods and menu variety in long-term and senior living communities. Residents want fresh fish, freshly brewed coffee, fresh-baked goods, freshly cracked eggs – fresh is important and Glendale Senior Dining’s rigorous food purchasing standards focus on fresh in all areas.

Photo of freshly-baked cookies at a senior living community.

Todd said, “Things have become so transparent now that the residents and their families are demanding the high level of quality foods. It’s one reason why having community events that involve the families are so important – because families get a glimpse of the senior living life and say, ‘Wow, are you eating like this every day?’ And residents say, ‘Yes!’”

Senior Living Dining Trend #2: A Dining Experience

Photo of steamed mussells prepared by senior housing food service.

The baby boomer generation doesn’t want to be part of a cavalcade lining up on the way down to the dining room three times a day for a meal. These residents want flexible dining times, a variety of food choices, and when they get to the dining room, they want to see something, to be entertained, and to have something unique. They want a dining experience rather than a meal.

Glendale Senior Dining offers various meal experiences. “We do buffets, exhibition cooking, casual dining, formal dining with full service, and more,” Todd said. “We have locations that have printed restaurant-style menus. We’re flexible enough to do what works in every single location.”

Additionally, Glendale Senior Dining encourages residents to share their favorite recipes with the dining services staff. Todd said, “We’re not afraid to try someone’s recipe at all and can adapt it for measurements and portions. We’ll credit the resident on the menu, too. That’s a common thing we do.”

Senior Living Dining Trend #3: Always a Social Atmosphere Accompanied by Food

Photo of food service display for senior living party.

Baby boomers are a dinner party crowd. They grew up with social activities that always involved food – get-togethers for sports, concerts, events; celebrations for birthdays, graduations, anniversaries; all holidays; or any reason at all that offered an opportunity to entertain. Baby boomers expect that social atmosphere to remain available along with healthy upscale food options and menus.

Residents find holiday and theme celebrations incredibly rewarding

“One of the things that we know from experience,” Todd said, “is how much the residents really enjoy holiday and theme celebrations.”

Senior living locations can have multiple parties during the holiday season. Particularly for Christmas, a facility can have a party for residents on one day and allow them to invite family members, and then on another day they had a party for the staff.

Photo of cheese station at senior living party.

Some locations include the staff in their Christmas party because residents want to see a staff member in a social setting enjoying themselves. Since staff members work hard, residents appreciate knowing that they are getting an opportunity to enjoy themselves, too.

Small private dining events without any stress

Photo of desserts prepared by senior living food service for small party.

And beyond the big community celebrations, Glendale Senior Dining enables senior living facilities to offer dining experience choices to residents at any time – whether it be in a private room, a condo, an apartment, a home, in the main dining room, or a private dining area. There is an enormous level of satisfaction for the residents when they can invite their families to come to where they live – their new home – and entertain and have breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and not have to lift anything and can focus entirely on their family members rather than worrying about doing dishes and cleaning up.

“Whatever their living arrangement,” Todd said, “we’ll do all their cooking and catering for them, and even deliver. And if they need someone there to be an attendant, we’ll arrange for that as well. We take the sting out of having a party and let the residents enjoy themselves.”

Senior Living Dining Trend #4: Offering a Comfortable and Unstructured Dining Area to Spend Time with Family and Friends

Families and guests appreciate having a casual dining retail outlet where they can spend unstructured time and enjoy a casual meal or cup of coffee while visiting a resident.

With the common structured dining scenario, if a guest is visiting a resident for a meal in the dining room, the guest is going to end up sitting in another resident’s seat. “It can get awkward,” Todd said. “Residents can become comfortable in certain seats at certain tables. So, if they come down ready for lunch and find someone in their seat, it ends up effecting the entire dining room since they now have to sit somewhere else – in someone else’s seat.”

A bistro-style dining option in a community offers a very casual, fun, and friendly environment without restrictions. Residents and guests can come and go when they want, dine inside or outside (when the weather allows), and they won’t be taking anyone’s seat. Having a small dining retail outlet enables residents to have guests visit for a meal without interfering with people in the formal dining room.

Photo of senior living food service employee.

Senior Living Dining Trend #5: Fresh Snacks and Food Available Any Time

Snack programs no longer consist of a 2-pack of graham crackers in the afternoon.

This generation wants variety and flexibility. The regimented senior living meal times of breakfast at 8 AM, snack at 10 AM, lunch at noon, mid-afternoon snack at 2 PM, dinner at 5 PM, and evening snack at 7 PM doesn’t fit their lifestyle. They want food available around the clock and they’ll eat when they are ready.

Baby boomers are looking for fresh-baked cookies, mini muffins, or pastries. Or cookies, muffins, and pastries made by the chef – exhibition style. They may want to make their own desserts if the ingredients are available.

Photo of freshly-baked muffins prepared by a senior living food service.

They may want fresh-brewed coffee with their snacks. They may want their favorite branded coffee, such as Starbucks, or Green Mountain, or New England coffee. They don’t want old coffee that comes out of the kitchen.

They may want fully stocked pantries where they can grab a bowl of cereal (hot or cold), grab some fresh fruit, or make a sandwich.

Glendale Senior Dining adapts to the senior living location. Todd said, “If we have a particularly older population in one location we do one thing; if we have a particularly younger population in another location we do something else. If we have a transient population, we do something else. It’s definitely not a one-size-fits-all operation.”

Glendale Senior Dining assists clients who find themselves challenged with figuring everything out. Todd said, “We observe. We listen carefully. We learn the facility’s schedules and scheduling and see what equipment is in the kitchen. We create a plan that works for everyone involved. There are a lot of pieces to that puzzle that we help senior housing communities piece together."

Senior Living Dining Trend #6: Strong Interest in Locally Sourced Food

Photo promoting locally-sourced food for senior living food service.

Informed senior living residents appreciate knowing that many of their foods are coming from nearby farms and food producers.

Years ago, ‘buying local’ was a bandwagon. It’s now a trend and expectation.

Glendale Senior Dining, along with parent company, Café Services, does a lot of local purchasing. Todd said, “We’re happy to set up purchasing arrangements with local businesses. And it’s not always farm stands for fruits and vegetables. It can be a bakery or a coffee company. In Vermont, there are places that manufacture great cheeses, for example. We have the flexibility to seek out the vendors of distinction and to utilize them and the residents love it.”

Photo of locally-sourced cheese for senior housing food service.

It’s common for senior housing residents to be relocating only within a couple of hours from where the community is based. They love seeing the local coffee company being used or having items from a local bakery where they, perhaps, purchased baked goods in the past.

Todd said, “We do a lot of local purchasing and strive to make inroads with as many local companies as possible. It benefits us and the residents and the local businesses – everyone wins.”

A greater focus on fresh and local fruits and vegetables

Photo of locally sourced greens for senior living food service from Lef Farms.

If a senior living facility is in New England, Glendale Senior Dining will be buying apples in New England, not Washington State. Potatoes won’t be flown in from Idaho if there is a local potato farm in Maine.

“We obviously don’t always have fresh fruit and vegetables from New England,” Todd said, “since they are seasonal, but when we can source locally, we’re happy to do it.”

Senior Living Dining Trend #7: Adding Value-Added Services to Senior Housing Locations

As shown through the above trends, senior living dining options need to be enhanced so communities can attract residents.

Glendale Senior Dining’s management and staff is fully engaged – and hands-on when needed – to satisfy their senior housing community client.

Photo of senior living food service team.

They professionally execute and supervise dining services at all levels, from daily snacks to meals to summer barbeques to holiday parties and other special senior living community events. Everyone in the company, and the parent company, Café Services, has experience in the foodservice industry, so when needed, members of the corporate office – the company president, the director of culinary, the traveling chef managers, the district managers – support events in whatever role is needed; set up, food prep, food service, clean up, and so on.

Todd said, “There are some special events during the year when we invite our office staff members to spend a day in the field with us. These employees are always excited to be involved with the events and have direct interaction with the residents.”

Enhanced dining programs are key to moving senior living programs forward

In the past, dining services was not an area that prospective residents focused on when seeking out a senior living community, but it is quickly growing in importance for incoming residents. Executive directors and owners of senior housing communities are looking for that edge that may be the difference between them getting a new resident and some other community getting the person. With baby boomers, and their combined passion for food and social activities, a professionally managed dining service can set one community above another.

Alleviating the stress of all the tasks involved with senior living dining services

Photo of chocolate mousse prepared by senior living food service.

Glendale Senior Dining is a dining management operator that can transform an underperforming dining services department to a top-performing department. Glendale Senior Dining knows how to help senior living community leadership understand and meet complex regulatory requirements, sanitation requirements, and food quality standards; how to comply to local, state, and health requirements; how to implement the proper hiring procedures and purchasing procedures; and how to manage all other tasks associated with offering dining services and running a kitchen.

An excellent senior living dining experience makes a difference

Senior living facilities face increasing competition, so differentiation is critical.

“If there is one common thread to senior living foodservice trends,” Todd said, “it’s that the generation now entering senior care has very different expectations. The senior housing facilities who are prepared will do fine. Those who are unprepared will fail. Glendale Senior Dining knows all that is involved with dining services. This is all we do.”