The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically affected Senior Living dining, and many providers are looking for ways to adapt their dining and foodservice programs for the future. Hospitality-inspired strategies that were popular the past several years – with a focus on fostering engaging experiences for large groups of people – will need to be modified in order to prioritize the health and safety of residents and staff.

As we continue to look at trends in Senior Living design during COVID-19, we’re forecasting the need for flexible dining spaces and adaptable foodservice processes. Here are five senior dining trends we’re seeing: 

Innovative Food & Dining Trends in Senior Living

1. Flexible Dining Rooms 

As we discussed in our post on the top senior housing trends during COVID-19, we recommend developing multiple smaller ecosystems throughout your community to help with population health management.

Each ecosystem would feature a smaller satellite dining space to support residents during a health emergency. These adaptable spaces allow resident socialization while being able to easily separate or convert spaces in a crisis. During an emergency, any room can serve as a dining room, including a chapel, theater or library. In new construction projects, intentionally designing amenity spaces that can be used as additional dining spaces can help you adapt to unforeseen situations. 

In addition, smaller ecosystems can allow for some of the special senior dining programming. For example, communities can use mobile kitchen carts to have a chef prepare a meal in front of a small group of residents in the satellite dining space. 

Senior Living Dining Room

2. Adapting Existing Dining Spaces 

In existing Senior Living dining rooms, we recommend adding dividers to help create intimacy and safety while still offering residents a desirable experience. There is an array of dividers to choose from, including decorative and mobile full-height panels that divide tables and clear, acrylic tabletop dividers that provide protection to residents sharing a table.

In addition to separating groups, it’s important to control the flow of people. If a current dining room has a pre-function space, residents could enter through there, enjoy their meals and exit through a second door to help reduce interactions. This one-way flow helps minimize the risk of disease transmission. 

We’re also seeing providers implement staggered mealtimes to support social distancing practices and allow staff to thoroughly disinfect the space between each seating. Resident surveys can help provide insights on how comfortable residents are with congregate dining. Some providers may want to introduce reservation-based service in their dining programs. This allows residents to reserve a table or order a meal online before picking it up at the bistro.

Social distancing in an existing dining room can create a space that looks and feels empty. Many operators are finding creative ways to fill the extra chairs, like adding stuffed animals. Some organizations have partnered with local historical societies to fill the seats with historically dressed mannequins. Not only does it help fill the space, but it’s a great way to generate conversation. 

Providers are also planning special dining events to balance the social needs of residents with their health and safety. Themed events, like Christmas in July, Asian Week and Luau Night, can inspire excitement in a community.

3. Enhanced In-Unit Dining

Senior Living communities have done an excellent job pivoting to in-unit dining during the pandemic. As we look to expand on this trend, we encourage providers to take cues from the hospitality industry and mimic the room service experience.

Almost any amenity can be brought to a resident during isolation. In addition to residents enjoying grab-and-go meals from an existing bistro in their rooms, providers can offer a coffee cart in the morning or a happy hour cart in the evening. We’re also hearing about an increase in resident dehydration and weight loss. In response, many operators are increasing the caloric content of meals and adding mobile snack carts with beverages and high-calorie snacks. 

Not only can providers offer in-unit dining, but they can also translate some of their most popular dining programming to in-unit entertainment. For example, chefs can livestream cooking demonstrations from an exhibition kitchen so residents can still engage with the community. 

Senior Living resident apartment featuring counter seating, living room and balcony for enhanced connection to the outdoors.

4. Food Preparation & Equipment 

Farm-to-table dining has been popular in recent years, but many communities had to refrain from this trend temporarily due to food shortages, unreliable deliveries and staff shortages. Instead, communities may rely on more dry goods, frozen entrees and other prepared foods that are on hand and easy to make. Providers will need to consider adding more storage for frozen foods, dry goods and staples to accommodate this strategy.

To facilitate in-room dining, communities need more equipment, including delivery carts, trays, plates and covers. As communities purchase more supplies, the need for extra storage increases. Looking to the future, we recommend building more storage space into food preparation areas to ensure adequate room for these additional supplies and equipment. 

5. Maximizing Outdoor Space

Converting a patio into an extra dining area is a great way to take advantage of outdoor space and natural air circulation. Adding outdoor kitchens, including a grill, cooler and mobile bar, can offer a unique dining experience and reduce the number of trips to the kitchen for staff.

Hosting a safe, socially distanced food truck night on a regular basis is another option to help maximize outdoor space. Not only will it help draw residents outside, but it can also foster a greater connection to the local community. 

The Bottom Line 

Increased flexibility and offering more resident choice will continue to be key dining trends long after the pandemic. Our Senior Living design and construction experts can help you implement innovative senior housing design strategies like these, so you can adapt to the future of the Senior Living industry. For more insights into emerging trends during the pandemic, explore our COVID-19 series

Schedule a call to discuss your COVID-19 strategy, or reach out with any questions on the latest senior housing design trends.