How Vi, Grace Management, Holbrook Build Dining Menus to Sate Senior Living Resident Appetites

How Vi, Grace Management, Holbrook Build Dining Menus to Sate Senior Living Resident Appetites


Flavorful, varied, healthy – those are just some of the words to describe what senior living residents want out of their dining options.

In 2024, developing a senior living menu that the incoming generation of residents will want is no easy task. Not only are incoming residents bringing preferences for new flavors and dishes with them when they move into communities, they are also comparing senior living dining to experiences they’ve had at restaurants in their everyday lives.

By the time they move into senior living, residents will have spent years traveling across the country and world, eating and seeing new kinds of food. And they won’t give that lifestyle up simply because they move into senior living, according to National Director of Dining Services Max Rasquinha.

“Today’s residents are far more savvy than ever before. They watch the Food Network, they watch ‘Diners, Drive-ins and Dives,’” Rasquinha said during a recent panel at the Senior Housing News DISHED conference in Chicago. “It’s important for us to be more educated, be in-tune with technology, be in-tune with recipes and really be able to evolve and pivot to their likings.”

‘Variety is the name of the game’

Senior living operators including Holbrook Life, Grace Management and Vi offer fare on menus that change every six weeks. What they are serving on those menus, and how they determine what residents want, is the hard part.

“We’re trying to innovate and make sure that we’re ahead of the curve of what’s coming with the baby boomers being very much obsessed with longevity and wellness,” Holbrook Life Vice President of Business Development Jack Miller said during the DISHED panel.

Many senior living operators are in 2024 seeking to rival local restaurants in terms of quality and service.

Grace Management culinary teams draw menus every six weeks using seasonal ingredients as a guide. That way, meals will be fresh and change with the time of the year.

By directly working with farmers on a seasonal cadence, Grace Management has “literally hundreds of menus” that blend variety with fresh options, he said. This allows culinary teams to remain creative and responsive to resident tastes and preferences.

Rasquinha said that residents also get a say in creating menus.

Chicago-based Vi is bringing more flexibility into its dining program, with residents stopping by dining venues for a flat-bread or burger in a fast-casual environment while also seeking traditional multi-course meals for celebratory events, according to Vi Living Corporate Director of Food and Beverage Steve Sandblom.

“Variety is the name of the game here,” Sandblom said during the panel.

Balancing the variety of new fare with traditional favorites for legacy residents is a challenge, he noted. Newer residents want flexibility while residents already living in the community prefer more structured dining options.

Operators have also pivoted to offering more options for resident dining throughout the day outside of the traditional three mealtimes. Holbrook Life rotates daily specials for lunch and dinner. That’s paired with an automated text to residents seeking feedback on dining experiences.

“We have such a unique opportunity to serve the same group of people, so instead of a typical restaurant, we need to take advantage of getting instantaneous feedback from our residents and use that as an advantage in curating a menu,” said Miller.

Senior living operators have faced various expense pressures, along with rising food prices. Remaining on budget while bringing new menus to the fold is a delicate balancing act for providers.

On the one hand, creating a menu geared toward wellness and health can be expensive, depending on what residents want. On the other hand, food is among a big area of criticism for residents, and a big selling point during the sales process.

Group purchasing organizations (GPO) have helped operators share the cost burden of food in recent years. To coordinate pricing affordability in crafting menu development, Vi Living has twice-monthly culinary calls to coordinate purchasing.

For example, if a community is purchasing a certain protein like steak or chicken, they can realize a savings of 30 cents per pound, Sandblom said.

“Most of our chefs really focus on that. There’s a couple in particular who are laser focused on finding the best pricing,” he said.

He added: “But we can’t sacrifice the quality and that’s of utmost importance, and I think our teams do an incredible job balancing them.”

Group purchasing has helped Grace Management coordinate menu development while finding the best prices, Rasquinha said.By managing specific points in the purchasing process, teams find cost savings and spend efficiently.

Chefs at the company have the leeway to call an audible, such as upgrading to a ribeye steak from sirloin. But those costs must be balanced elsewhere. That process is made easier by the fact that Grace Management chefs can see the cost of the food they are serving using an internal system.

“That kind of micromanaging has to happen at certain points in the menu development process,” he said.

Wellness, flexibility play bigger roles

In 2024, many senior living operators are promoting health and wellness in some fashion, with resident preferences being a big reason why. Many times, these efforts shine through in what chefs prepare.

Holbrook Life communities have dining venues that are all made to function as real working eateries that the public can visit. That helps the company’s brand awareness while also creating a new revenue stream.

Through its country club-style membership model that includes various wellness amenities and dining options for non-residents.

Holbrook Life is exploring a pilot program in the future for its memory care sites with an optional keto diet, a way of eating that’s been tied to improved cognition through ketogenic intervention, according to the National Institutes of Health.

“Food and beverage is the number one differentiator against our competitors, and we’re heavily investing in our program that gives us flexibility,” Miller said.

In building a successful menu, senior living operators must keep wellness and resident health in mind.

Vi has a curated wellness model dubbed Living Well, through which it has helped increase the popularity of healthy dining options on menus such as organic and vegetarian, Sandblom said.

Grace Management culinary teams have taken cues from the Whole Foods food bar. The operator gives residents a range of proteins, chilled sides, and vegetables that they can choose from and take back to their rooms with instructions for reheating and serving.

“That’s proven to be very successful, and it’s a model that we’re looking at rolling out in other communities,”

By integrating technology to support culinary staff, from purchasing to menu development, culinary teams are able to track ever-evolving resident dining trends. Rasquinha highlighted how Grace Management culinary teams interact on a shared dashboard in menu development and food order purchasing.

“Don’t lose sight of what residents want,” Rasquinha said. “Don’t take that for granted in a community.”



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