Staying ahead of changing tastes in senior living

How one foodservice team is adapting to the dining preferences of baby boomer residents.
Photograph: Shutterstock

FSD editors sat down with Mark Southern, AVP of food and beverage at Vi Living, a high-end senior living community with 10 locations nationwide, to learn how his foodservice team is adapting to the dining preferences of baby boomer residents.

Q: In noncommercial foodservice, we talk a lot about the shift away from three square meals a day. Is that something that you’re seeing at your locations?

Absolutely. It’s starting to creep in, it’s starting to come. One of the challenges we have at our particular company that may be a little unique to us is that the boomers are just starting to arrive in our communitiesour residents do skew a little bit older than the national averages [due to being in a position to stay in their homes longer]. … But yes, we’re starting to see a huge number of requests, and they’re coming as new residents arrive.

We still have a traditionalist generation base in our communities that are still about the three square meals, but we’re absolutely getting in front of that [shift] because one of the challenges that we have as a provider is ensuring that we’re relevant for our next customer.

Q: Are you changing the configurations of your eating venues as a result: more grab-and-go, more flexible meal times?

All of the above. Our communities tend to run on about a seven- to 10-year master planning cycle, so one of the challenges is while we might have renovated a community last year or are doing something right now, the shelf life of that has to be pretty far out in the future.

And we know that if we’re doing something today, seven years from now, we will see a pretty significant shift in our population base and our resident and customer base. So we’re ensuring that the bones are built properly so we have flexible spaces. While we might not be putting in almost a QSR-type venue, we’re building such that it could become [one] at some point in the future.

Q: You mentioned baby boomers coming into senior living. What sort of demands around the menu do they have?

So that goes back to the last question of what we are changing. Bars: We’ve always had lounges, we’ve always had liquor service in our communities. (We’ve got 13 bars in the 10 communities, so some have more than one.) We’re seeing a shift into foodservice in the barwhat’s become the bar food that’s out in the marketplace.

Our boomers that are arriving in our communities are very well-traveled. They’ve been out in the restaurant scene a lot and, candidly, the Instagrammability of food has not left them alone. It’s come from their grandchildren, their children, potentially, and the world. So consequently, we’re really moving into bar spaces with shareable plates, with small plates and tapas. … We are seeing a really interesting shift in that direction.

Q: Are you exploring more ethnic cuisines, too?

Yes, and like the rest of America and the world, I think more authentic ethnic cuisines. So where our traditionalists, our silent generation residents, might be satisfied with [the sorts of] Asian or Chinese restaurants that were in the heyday of when they were dining out, now our residents that are moving in are looking for subregions. They’re looking for authentic Vietnamese or they want Szechuan. They prefer something a little more local and authentic, so we’re having to understand that. 

Responses have been edited and condensed for length and clarity. You can listen to the full interview with Mark Southern here.



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