Guest Columns

Senior living dining is part of a revolution

Dave Ticehurst, Village on the Green
Dave Ticehurst, Village on the Green

If you walk into our dining room at Village on the Green in Longwood, Florida, it might take you a moment to realize you're at a senior living community. Everything from the atmosphere to the aroma that our residents experience each and every day would appear, at first glance, to be something you might find at a fine dining establishment or vacation resort, and is certainly different from what you might have seen even as recently as 10 years ago.

The fact is, our industry is in the midst of a revolution. That's the perfect term for it, because that revolution is all about a revolutionary generation, the baby boomers, who are now retiring in greater and greater numbers. They're different from the generations of seniors who came before them in more ways than one, and perhaps the biggest difference is the way they approach the dining room. That's why it's crucial for communities to stay ahead of the game when it comes to food options, opportunities and ambience.

As the generations have begun to shift, so has our approach to dining. It's something long-term providers need to be aware of, because the incoming generation of seniors don't just prefer to dine this way, they expect it. That's why our approach emphasizes two things: difference and variety. We emphasize menu options and focus on atmosphere in ways that simply weren't important to the G.I. Generation, or even the Silent Generation. For us, meeting those expectations has led to an emphasis on farm-to-fork, locally grown options.

To be clear, the generations that came before the boomers certainly had and continue to have preferences when it comes to dining. With those generations, however, especially those who came of age during the Great Depression, being able to enjoy a meal each day was something they never took for granted. Perhaps for that reason, their expectations were more easily met. 

By contrast, boomers grew up during a time of great peace and prosperity. Throughout their lives, they've had more opportunities to fine-tune their taste buds through travel and the changes in the restaurant industry that have brought more variety as well as more international flavors to the mainstream.

Where there's a need, we've tried to provide a way to meet it, and we're proud to be one of a growing number of communities across the country that are in tune with this trend.

Another reason for the dining revolution currently taking place is an emphasis on health. Advancements in medicine and the way we understand the human body have led to healthier and longer-living seniors. This has also created a desire not just for menu variety, but for a continued focus on nutrition. It's also led to a more active and mobile generation of seniors that we're serving today. They've been to more restaurants, and that creates an expectation of a dining standard that we strive to maintain and exceed whenever possible.

What we've done, then, is to put into place an emphasis on quality and presentation. It's what we come to work thinking about each and every day. Our menu development is based on the types of food choices desired by our residents, and being able to provide seasonal and regional food trends plays a strong part in the type of dining experience we now provide.

Another change that we've incorporated into our community is our “to go” and meal delivery program. It's expanding, and we're proactive about food quality and presentation in that area as well. That means packaging and delivery logistics that ensure the same level of satisfaction from someone who eats in his or her living space is achieved as with an “in-house” dining patron.

Something else we've done that's part of the growing trend within the industry is find unique ways to maintain interest and enhance variety such as promoting themed events like pizza and taco nights, offering outdoor dining events, poolside and patio events, and large seasonal events like our football tailgate party, Oktoberfest and spring luau.

The bottom line is that the revolution is here. We can no longer question if the expectations of senior living diners are going to change. They already have. Meeting them requires creativity, innovation and a feel for the pulse of the next generation of seniors.

David Ticehurst is the dining director at Village on the Green in Longwood, FL.

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Guest columns are written by long-term care industry experts, ranging from academics and thought leaders to administrators and CEOs.

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