By Leigh Ann Hubbard

“Residents don’t like change.”

Nodding heads. Chuckles.

Ever heard this? … Ever said it? It was a common refrain at the Synergy dining conference this year — an event full of people eager to try fun new ideas, and frustrated at pushback.

But, um … you know who else doesn’t like change?

Most people.

Proof: The Cheesecake Factory has more than 250 items on its menu. How many have you tried? (Those Avocado Eggrolls are good, aren’t they? Mm-hm, I see you.)

It’s not that residents wouldn’t enjoy something different, it’s that communities have to figure out how to make it enticing, exciting, intriguing.

Here are some ideas attendees shared at Synergy, and ideas inspired by them, to get your brain whirling. A good way to think about it is: What entices you to order something new?

Team Up With Life Enrichment.

  1. Got a new pasta dish in mind? Invite residents to make the noodles that day! Teach them the process, and they’ll have fun eating them that night.
  2. To incorporate healthier cooking or different flavors, how about having a resident-attended herb garden, the “fruits” of which they’ll see on the table?

Make It Social.

  1. Want to introduce more ethnic foods? If you have residents or staff members with ethnically diverse backgrounds, ask them for family recipes. On the menu, include the family member’s name. People want to support their friends.
  2. To introduce new or international cuisine, create a pop-up restaurant, like at a bar area. Take reservations. Lean into FOMO. One chef said residents are like, “I’ll try anything as long as I don’t miss out on what my neighbor’s doing.”

Make It Fun.

  1. Create theme nights. You can even decorate the dining venue according to the theme. Team up with life enrichment to have residents make centerpieces!
  2. Do a travel series. One community is “traveling” through states, offering things like Kansas City barbecue and Texas brisket.
  3. Have a taste test sample event. Offer three choices; have people vote.
  4. During dining service, take small taste tests around to tables.

Don’t Give Up.

  1. One chef said he aims for small buy-in at first — 20 or 30 orders — and then more next time. The people who buy it will sell it to others at their table.
  2. As one attendee put it, “Every successful introduction increases trust.” A little experiment here and there can stimulate appetite for risk.

How have you gotten buy-in for new ideas?

Senior Living Foresight is an industry partner to the Senior Dining Association’s Synergy 2023 conference.