Redesigning Flexible Dining Options

By Susan Dolton, Vice President, Sales Services

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” -Virginia Woolf

Making new friends in her retirementDining well and creating venues that appeal to a variety of age groups and interests was the focus of a session I attended at the LeadingAge National Meeting and Expo in Nashville. As the VP of Sales Services at Love & Company, I know that the highlight (or low point) of appointments with prospects in a community is often the dining room. Having one large, formal dining room that serves all residents at the same time of day is not appealing to our new, ever-more discerning prospects.

Brooke Pearsall, Director of Design at GMK Interiors discussed the five latest trends in dining at a session entitled, “Designing Flexible Dining Venues for Today’s Resident.”

  1. Come in and stay awhile – Creating a new bistro/café concept that allows patrons to enjoy the space outside of meal times to support community interaction. Brooke has designed spaces that look more like an upscale Starbuck’s than a traditional senior living community. Residents can be found there at all times of day, reading, listening to a musical performance or educational speaker, or simply enjoying the company of friends and family.
  2. Create a destination – Leading edge design has a strong identity that draws in patrons for the experience not just for the venue or menu. Using very creative designs, lighting, furniture, and artwork, some communities are creating venues that would rival many new restaurants.
  3. Display cooking – By creating cooking stations within view of the residents and equipping chefs with microphones, some communities are turning meal times into true entertainment.
  4. Home grown – Senior living communities are getting in on the “farm to table” craze by serving meats and produce from local farms and providing longer tables for “communal” dining.
  5. Technology – Brooke has incorporated technology in her designs with the use of iPads to display menus, apps for residents’ phones and tablets that announce new events in the dining venue, and to project ever-changing artwork on the walls.

When Danny Sanford, Executive Director and CEO, Still Hopes Episcopal Retirement Community in Columbia, SC set out to be the provider of choice for short-term rehabilitation in the metro Columbia area, he knew that dining would have to play a crucial role in his plan. He wanted an all day dining atmosphere that was restaurant quality, where families and professionals would want to eat. The modern bistro created in an existing space is now a place where visiting families stay to eat with patients. Danny was very pleased to report that even the ambulance drivers were choosing to dine there.

When that project was completed, Danny and his team tackled a larger one by creating “Main Street”, a 38,000 square foot re-invention of space for enhancing the social, emotional, intellectual, and environmental dimensions of wellness. The three new dining venues of Main Street included a coffee café with ice cream, smoothies, a and sandwiches, a cozy fine dining option, seating only 30, and a casual, fun dining area, situated around a piano bar. Imagine bringing a prospect here while residents are enjoying a meal and lively conversation. Who wouldn’t want to live here?

Reworking an existing dining venue can be tricky business. Arnie Thompson, Administrator, River Landing at Sandy Ridge in Colfax, NC was careful to allow for significant resident input when redesigning their two dining venues. Additionally, he created focus groups of seniors who were considering a move to a retirement community. He found that their newest venue, which had received a redesign only 10 years earlier, was already dated. Working closely with the all the stakeholders and his partners at GMK, he improved the flow and signage of the bistro, creating a casual, intimate space that residents helped to design.

All the presenters in this Leading Age session had the same message: keep your dining venues fresh, innovative, fun and flexible. Who among us wants to go to the same restaurant every evening? By providing options to residents, we can give them another compelling reason to move to our communities.

Our prospects have likely enjoyed a variety of restaurants – from extremely casual national chains to exclusive upscale establishments. They are looking for amenities that will keep them interested and engaged. Continuing care retirement communities that work to stay ahead of consumer demand by providing nutritious, delicious meals in a variety of venues, will have satisfied residents and impressed prospects.

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