Senior Living

Using Your Senior Living Community’s Dining Program as a Marketing Advantage

Mackenzie Fraser, Senior Vice President

Senior women enjoying their dining experience

Food and the experience and emotion it brings holds a special place in the hearts of those exploring retirement living options. It’s not just a consideration; it’s a key aspect, ranking second only to price during the senior living buying cycle. According to Datassential, more than 40 percent of long-term care/senior living residents focus on food options early in the selection process. 

When families and seniors explore senior living options, reputation becomes a pivotal factor. That’s why nurturing a dining brand that stands out because it surpasses expectations is paramount. A strong dining brand (and the program to back it) not only enhances the quality of life for existing residents but also draws prospects considering a move to senior living. 

Create a brand that is a promise. 

A brand is so much more than a logo or a name; it’s a promise that makes people feel a certain way before they even sit down to eat. Just as one has different expectations from a dinner at Applebee’s than at a Michelin-starred restaurant, your unique brand promise sets the tone for an experience that resonates on a personal level.

Infuse your brand’s essence into your dining program by adding innovative elements that reflect your community’s values, such as healthy plates and hydration stations (an excellent socialization opportunity). Branding signature dishes, dressings and desserts unique to your community adds identity and pride while promoting wellness and social connection. 

Dining is an emotional journey for individuals for a myriad of reasons, from nostalgia to the central role that food plays in their lives. Whatever the underlying motivation may be, it’s critical to craft your dining program brand to meet residents’ unique needs and preferences. It’s about creating a space where everyone feels not just satisfied but genuinely delighted. And once you do that, use this to your advantage when marketing your community to prospective residents. 

Meet seniors’ higher expectations. 

Today’s seniors are vibrant, well-traveled individuals with a taste for the finer things, many of whom have been cooking for many years themselves and may come from a long line of excellent cooks. They have been exposed to television cooking shows that emphasize ingredients and elevate the conversation around food. 

For discerning seniors considering retirement options, a top-notch dining program can be the key to standing out. Introducing your dining program in a captivating and intriguing way can leave a lasting impression. It’s not just about food; each meal becomes an opportunity to try new flavors, reminisce over favorite recipes and make lasting memories. Here are some ways to showcase your dining program to prospects: 

  • Highlight Culinary Excellence: Showcase the quality and variety of dishes offered through visually appealing photographs and descriptions in marketing materials, on your website and on social media platforms. 
  • Offer Tasting Events: Organize tasting events where prospective residents can sample dishes from the dining program. This allows them to experience your community’s culinary excellence firsthand while getting a feel for the dining atmosphere and engaging with current residents. 
  • Emphasize Health and Wellness: Highlight the health benefits of your dining program, such as brain-healthy and heart-healthy options, as well as accommodating various dietary preferences. Positioning the dining program as a vital component of overall wellness can appeal to seniors looking to maintain a healthy lifestyle. 
  • Create Engaging Content: Produce content that showcases the behind-the-scenes of the dining program, including chef profiles, signature recipes, holiday dining, farm-to-table initiatives and cooking demonstrations. This content can be shared on your community’s blog, newsletter or social media channels to engage prospective residents and demonstrate transparency. 
  • Host Culinary Workshops: Organize workshops or cooking classes led by the community’s chefs to engage prospective residents and highlight the culinary expertise available within the community. These interactive experiences can showcase the dining program’s commitment to culinary excellence and provide a taste of the community’s lifestyle. 
  • Offer Personalized Dining Experiences: Highlight the personalized dining experiences available, such as special occasion celebrations, private dining options and personalized menu planning. This demonstrates the community’s attention to individual preferences and creates a sense of exclusivity and luxury. 
  • Collect and Share Resident Testimonials: Gather testimonials from current residents about their dining experiences within the community. Sharing these testimonials on the community’s website, social media and marketing materials can provide authentic endorsements that resonate with prospective residents. 

Incorporating your dining program as a centerpiece of your marketing efforts isn’t just a strategy—it’s a game changer. It’s the secret ingredient that elevates your community, attracts discerning seniors and sets the stage for a vibrant and fulfilling lifestyle. 

Offer choice and diversity. 

As the dining experience has become a pivotal factor influencing resident satisfaction and the overall quality of life, trends have emerged to diversify the typical dining program: 

  • All-day dining allows residents to eat when they want to rather than only at set meal times. 
  • Late-night dining accommodates those with different sleep patterns. 
  • Brunch is a more casual and relaxed meal that can combine breakfast and lunch dishes. 
  • Pop-up dining includes chef demonstrations, cooking classes, special events and food trucks. 
  • Grab-and-go meals are available to take when heading out. 
  • Private dining rooms can be used for family or private events. 
  • More communities are partnering with local restaurants to offer catered meals to residents. 

Seniors today also look for a variety of dining settings other than the main dining room, such as a bistro, pub, casual dining area, coffee shop or outdoor dining area. 

Having a wide range of physical and culinary options is an essential differentiator for your dining program. It helps create a brand that aligns with the overall culture of the independent living community. 

Reach out to the local community. 

 Senior communities have an excellent opportunity to build a lasting relationship with the local community, generate operating income and create a recognizable dining program. When you advertise your community’s dining options, you’re really promoting your community as a whole. Use the dining program to reshape perceptions of senior living and foster positive stereotypes. 

Opening up your dining room for lunch not only allows seniors and local residents to socialize and mingle but also can earn your senior living community extra income. It’s more than just a meal—it’s a chance for connection and community-building. Moreover, offering local catering is another way to boost the bottom line while forging a bond with the local community. When the experience is memorable, satisfied customers will promote your community via word of mouth and online reviews. 

Hosting coffee hours and special meal events is not only an effective way to attract prospective residents to your campus, but it also creates a welcoming environment that is less intimidating for prospects to visit. These events offer an opportunity to showcase what makes your senior community exceptional beyond just the dining program, providing a glimpse into the overall lifestyle and amenities. By doing so, you can make a lasting impression on potential residents and their families. 

Make your dining brand part of your marketing. 

Like other aspects of marketing your community, it’s important to develop and promote your dining program brand effectively. The first important step is to establish a dining program brand that reflects the identity of your community. Consider productizing it with a catchy name like “Eat Local, Live Local” or “Healthy4You” to convey your commitment to local sourcing and health-conscious options. 

Consider naming your dining venues in a way that reflects the ambience and character of your community. For instance, “Common Roots” could evoke a nature-inspired theme, while “Azure” might be suitable for a fine-dining experience in a seaside location, drawing on the vivid hue of blue associated with tranquility and serenity. Incorporating thoughtful elements reminiscent of a five-star restaurant in terms of quality, service and atmosphere can further enhance the dining experience and contribute to a memorable dining venue. 

Furthermore, consider productizing elements within your dining program, such as signature dishes, salad dressings or specialized menus, like “The Healthy Plate” or a unique dessert offering. Incorporating these branded elements adds depth to your dining program and enhances its appeal to prospective residents. 

Once you’ve established your dining brand, it’s essential to promote it effectively across digital and traditional marketing channels. Showcase the dining experience on your website, social media platforms and in marketing materials, making it a focal point during community tours and offering prospects complimentary meals to sample firsthand. 

Harness the power of resident testimonials to further endorse your dining brand through word-of-mouth marketing. Hearing positive feedback from peers can be one of the most persuasive forms of promotion. 

Lastly, ensure your dining team is well trained and capable of delivering on the brand promise. Consistency is key in upholding your community’s reputation and ensuring resident satisfaction. By presenting your dining offerings with care and attention to detail, you demonstrate your commitment to providing a meaningful and fulfilling experience for residents in all aspects of your community. 

Set your community apart. 

In the world of retirement living, today’s discerning seniors hold expectations that soar higher than ever before. Succeeding in this competitive environment demands more than just meeting standards—it calls for going the extra mile. 

Your senior living community has a challenge not only to stand out but to surpass the expectations of both current and future residents in all areas. However, it’s clear that dining program brand marketing is one area of opportunity and should not be overlooked—and it may well pay some of the highest dividends. 

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