By Leigh Ann Hubbard
Last week, hundreds of foodies hit Houston for the Senior Dining Association’s annual Synergy conference. It was an intense three days of all things soup.
… Just kidding!
Those chefs are going to filet me.
Boring, bland food and tray service are what most people think when you say “senior living dining.” Communities are working to change that stigma. As Alyssa Bruns, regional culinary director at Arrow Senior Living, told me: Anything you can do in a commercial restaurant, you can do in senior living. (Great video interview with her coming soon! To catch it, subscribe here if you haven’t already.)
After talking with dining pros and listening to presentations, I came away with a number of themes that are saturating senior living dining in 2023. Are you seeing the same?
- Commercial chefs, comin’ through! Communities are recruiting skilled, experienced chefs from commercial restaurants. Once the chefs get past the stigma — what they think this type of dining is about — they transition over and never look back.
- Innovation: Ideas are flying, and there’s a hunger for new restaurant concepts, menus, recipes, and events, as well as interest in …
- Contemporary trends, like farm-to-table, from-scatch cooking, and plant-based meals. But the chefs need help figuring out how to get past …
- Resistance to change, and figuring out how to get buy-in, from staff and residents.
- The cost of food has skyrocketed — and it’s not just the eggs.
- Efficiency: Given that budget strain, plus staffing issues, there’s an interest in doing more with less: 1) reducing food waste and 2) supporting staff with technology solutions like robots and POS systems. Caveat: For point 2, the “interest” is more like curiosity. Many communities have not invested in this kind of tech.
- Creative problem-solving: Gotta find solutions, no matter budget and staffing issues, even if it means … doing buffets (GASP).
- Healthier dishes are on the menu, but there’s a need to 1) entice residents to eat them and 2) still provide the richer foods many people want.
- Staff retention: If you retain, you don’t have to recruit. Initiatives include training programs, career ladders, and tuition reimbursement.
- Strategizing: Communities are starting to get back to initiatives they started before COVID, such as sustainability, which went out the window for a few years.
P.S. Also …
- The food in Houston: They loved the food at the event venue (Mariott Marquis) and at restaurants they went to. I expected to find at least a couple of snobs. Either they’re that nice or the food was that good. (OK, the food was delicious.)
- Determination and drive: These passionate — and compassionate — leaders are ready to get stuff done.
What other themes are you seeing in senior living dining in 2023?
Senior Living Foresight is an industry partner to Synergy 2023.