2014 LTC/Senior Living Census: Ancillary foodservice locations gain in popularity

Other highlights of our 2014 LTC/Senior Living Census include gluten-free options’ growth potential and amping up culture change initiatives.
  • There were 238 respondents in our 2014 LTC/Senior Living Census Report. Each respondent operates foodservice in at least one of the following arenas: nursing home/skilled nursing/long-term care; assisted living; independent living or rehabilitation/psychiatric. Only 44% of respondents operate at a location that does not serve at least two of these segments. Seventy-eight percent of respondents operate a nursing home/skilled nursing or long-term care facility; 49% at an assisted
  • living facility; 35% at an independent living location; and 29% at a rehabilitation/psychiatric facility.
  • The average number of residents to which survey respondents serve at least one meal per day is 163, up two from last year’s 161. The total number of residents that our respondents serve each day is 37,802.
  • The majority of operations, at 83%, are self-op. Fourteen percent
  • are contract managed, and 3% are a combination of self-op and contract managed.
  • All respondents offer lunch and dinner, and all but one offer breakfast. Ninety-six percent offer snacks, and 34% offer late-night dining. 

Average number of foodservice residents

This year’s average dropped by two when compared with last year’s (187 versus 189, respectively). Once again, the Northeast and South were the regions with the highest average number of foodservice residents. 

average number of foodservice residents


Larger facilities see growth in resident size

Just like last year, most operators saw no change in their resident size (55% this year versus 57% last year). However, operators in larger facilities (150 or more residents) were more likely to report an increase in residents in the past two years (51% versus 26%, respectively). Operators who serve residents in all four types (assisted living, independent living, nursing home/skilled nursing/long-term care and rehabilitation/psychiatric) were the most likely to have seen an increase in residents, at 71%. For those operators who reported an increase, the average boost was 14%. Operators who serve only assisted living residents and those in the West saw the highest increases (21% and 25%, respectively). For operators who reported a decrease in resident size, the average drop was 10%. 

larger facilities see growth in resident size


The average food cost per resident per day is $6.61, up slightly from last year’s $6.59. The highest food cost per day, at $8.39, is found in operations that serve all four types of residents. Operators in the Northeast and South report higher averages at $7.08 than their central and Western counterparts at $6.17. 


Meal delivery

As in last year’s survey, the most common meal service style is restaurant style in a dining room, with 70% of operators offering this option. Fewer operators are offering buffet-style service in the dining room this year compared with last (19% versus 26%, respectively). Again this year, there are some major differences in service styles offered by larger facilities and those with fewer than 300 residents served per day. This is driven mostly by the fact that these large facilities more often serve residents in multiple arenas.   

  Total 300 or more residents served per day Fewer than 300 residents served per day
Restaurant style dining room 70% 93% 67%
Room service delivered to bedridden resident 41% 52% 39%
Meal options delivered to bedridden residents (meal choice made at service) 33% 41% 32%
A la carte in the dining room 30% 59% 26%
Independent living/assisted living room service 27% 28% 23%
Non-select tray service delivered to bedridden residents 23% 28% 23%
Buffet style in dining room 19% 52% 14%
Family style in dining room 13% 10% 13%

Do you agree?

We asked operators to rate their level of agreement with several statements on a six-point scale, where 6 was agree completely and 1 was do not agree at all. The following percentages represent those operators who strongly agree with the statement (rated 6 or 5). 

48% Residents’ dining preferences have broadened to include more diversified cuisines in the past five years. Operators who serve only assisted living residents disagree, however. Forty-five percent of these operators strongly disagree with this statement.

48% Residents know what they like and do not like change, making it hard to introduce new cuisines and dishes. This is an 11-percentage points increase from last year. 

39% Residents have demanded more upscale, creative dishes in the past five years. Once again, operators who serve assisted living residents aren’t in agreement, with 50% strongly disagreeing with this statement. 

38% In the past five years, residents have asked for more options when it comes to the locations where they can dine on campus. This is up 12 percentage points from last year.

37% Residents are asking for more flexibility in the way they use their dining allotment/meal plan.


Culture change

Sixty-six percent of respondents are implementing culture change initiatives. Operators who serve 300 or more residents per day are the most likely to have started these programs, with 83% of operators doing so. Culture change aims to move away from an institutional style of care to a person-directed one. Some ways operators are achieving this are by adding all-day dining, instituting flex-dining spending accounts and adding kitchenettes. 

culture change


7% The average amount of food purchases that are organic for the 25% of operators who purchase organic products.


Meal plan options

Like last year, the vast majority of operators offer their independent living/assisted living residents a set-meals-per-time-period plan (for example, three meals per day) or include it in room and board (90% this year versus 82% last year). Operators who have 300 or more residents are once again significantly more likely to offer flex dining than those with fewer than 300 residents (35% versus 7%, respectively). Flex dining gives residents a dollar amount that can be used however and whenever they wish. 

meal plan options


Gluten free tops growth list

Just like last year, operators are most bullish on the growth of gluten-free menu items (57% this year versus 60% last year). Operators who serve all four resident types are significantly more likely to peg gluten-free items to grow, at 86%. However, it is interesting to note that about three out of 10 respondents do not expect growth in any of these food trends.

gluten free tops growth lists


Sourcing locally

Produce is, once again, the item most often sourced locally. For those locations that purchase locally sourced products (64%), operators purchase an average of 20% of their food from these local options.

sourcing locally


Beyond the dining room


Ancillary foodservice locations gaining ground

More operators offer foodservice locations outside of dining rooms this year than last (58% versus 46%, respectively). Smaller locations (those with fewer than 150 residents) are significantly less likely to offer these ancillary foodservice locations than their larger counterparts (48% versus 73%, respectively). For those operators who offer ancillary foodservice locations, vending machines that serve food selections are the most likely offering, at 33%. 

ancillary foodservice locations gaining ground


Flex dollars not popular

flex dollars not popular


Growth at ancillary foodservice locations

Just like last year, operators report that lunch and snacks have the highest potential for growth in the next two years. Breakfast saw the largest change from last year’s survey, dropping from 13% growth potential last year to 5% this year. Overall, operators are more optimistic about ancillary growth’s potential this year than last. Fifty-five percent of operators say they expect growth this year, versus 45% last year.  

Once again, most operators do not plan to add ancillary foodservice locations in the next two years. 

growth at ancillary food service locations


Snacks Supreme

Snacks are still the most likely meal/daypart offered at ancillary locations (82% this year versus 72% last year). 

snacks supreme

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