Along with the oft used “It’s not your grandmother’s nursing home,” another common sentiment is used to describe a sea change among senior living providers: “It’s not her cafeteria, either.”
In fact, it’s not a cafeteria at all. Restaurant-style dining is making waves across communities nationwide, including chefs from top restaurants and hotels, innovative menu items to match regional preferences and cuisines, and well-orchestrated programming around dining (think: sushi rolling lessons and beer-brewing classes).
But marketing a dining program comes with its own set of challenges. A big-name chef is one thing, but senior living providers that have devoted resources and time to bolstering their food offerings are also trying some new tactics when it comes to raising awareness about about their dining.
And that goes well beyond a free lunch.
SHN spoke with several senior living providers that are making strides in marketing their dining programs far outside their community walls.
1. Be a part of “The Taste”
Along with the rise of food as a mainstream cultural event has come the ever popular “Taste of [Your locale name here].” From the famed Taste of Chicago to smaller, local events, one way senior living can tap into the community is, simply, to attend “the taste.”
Oakmont Senior Living’s Oakmont at Capriana community recently attended the Taste of Brea in its surrounding community. It will also be attending Taste of Yorba Linda, an adjacent town.
While the community doesn’t allow outside customers to come in for meals (unless they are a prospective resident or an invited family or friend), this presented a way to connect with future prospects, Executive Chef Jackie Nabong told SHN during a recent visit.
“Some people came to our booth and asked: ‘Where is your restaurant?’” Nabong says. “They saw it as a tease, but it’s something to work up to. We said, ‘Call us when you are 65.’ But the younger generations may have come by and will say, ‘Hey mom, I tried the food at [Oakmont] and it was great.”
2. Connect through cafes
Increasingly, senior living residents are expecting in-house items such as pastries and desserts baked on site.
Mather Lifeways is taking some of its dining style — as well as a host of other activities — into communities through its Cafe Plus model.
At Mather’s—More than a Cafe in Evanston, Ill., the cafe offers made-to-order breakfast and lunch. It also engages the community through Internet access and activities, such as yoga and writing classes. The Cafe Plus model starts with food, but ultimately aims to engage the community at large to give them a “taste” of what it’s like to live in a continuing care retirement community without leaving home.
3. Host locals
While most communities’ policies don’t allow them to operate a restaurant for outsiders through their senior living facilities, some are finding ways to bring the community in, whether for a nonprofit luncheon, or even a private, resident-hosted event.
The Mather, in Evanston once hosted a wedding for one of its residents who wasn’t able to travel to a granddaughter’s nuptial celebration. The community’s kitchen catered the entire event, from soup to cake.
At Chicago’s The Admiral at the Lake, a Kendal Corp. community, the kitchen has hosted gatherings of local non-profits including annual meetings and fundraising events. It also formulates the residents’ point system for dining to include extra points for family and friends to dine in the community.
At Oakmont’s Capriana, the restaurant has cooked for local political prospects — and their opponents.
Oakmont also includes a welcome party in each resident’s move-in package. This enables all new residents to invite up to 25 guests to attend a party in the main dining room, or in a smaller banquet area. Chef Nabong works with the residents on a custom menu that appeals to the resident and his or her guests.
“It’s our gift to them,” Nabong says. “They can invite their friends and family, and it’s a time when I can meet with them.”
4. Showcase top talents
Not all communities have the resources to do what Five Star Senior Living has done recently: namely, partner with a celebrity chef to bring recognition to the provider’s dining program and rebrand the dining concept across its communities.
But what communities can do is showcase the talent they do have. In Wayland, Mass., Carriage House at Lee’s Farm recently showcased a farm-to-table concept that features partnerships with local farms to provide fresh, local ingredients ingredients. Chef Justin Wallin, who brings a background in restaurant ownership to his position at the Northbridge Companies community, has spearheaded relationships with local purveyors of greens, corn and even coffee.
“You’d think the residents just want to eat dinner, but when you walk around here, they want to know where it’s from and how you made it. Now I can say ‘Heirloom tomatoes’ and ‘The farm,’” Wallin says.
The story was picked up in local media outlets, raising awareness of the community’s approach toward dining.
For Five Star, the company has partnered with a Hell’s Kitchen star, Chef Brad Miller, to overhaul its dining experience. Through Top Chef-style events, chefs across the company are given the opportunity to highlight their talents among peers — and the community at large.
Their internal celebrity status in turn gives Five Star residents something to market, says Chief of Operations Scott Herzig, of the approach.
“Now we are marketing ‘Come see Chef Tom,’” he says. “There are posters of the chef in the communities and we’re selling our food where we never did before. We all do similar things. We all have apartments. We all deliver care. The best way to differentiate is through something like this.”
Photo by Tania Tululie
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Written by Elizabeth Ecker