When you think of senior living dining facilities, does the first image that pops into your head look like a cafeteria buffet line? Well, think again. According to Robbie B. Smith, chief operating officer at Harbor’s Edge Retirement Community in Norfolk, long gone are the days of cafeteria trays and blue plate specials.
“Our residents have the frame of mind of eating at really high-quality restaurants,” says Smith. “They have dined at the finest restaurants on Granby Street, down at the Oceanfront of Virginia Beach, Williamsburg, and in fact, many of them have traveled all over the world and eaten at some of the most famous dining establishments. This is their point of reference, and it’s what they expect when dining here.”
John Aldridge, Executive Director of Mennowood Retirement Community in Newport News agrees. “A lot of our residents are members of country clubs or members of officer clubs. They’ve come to expect a certain level of quality when it comes to dining and they don’t want to sacrifice that when they downsize to a retirement community.”
In addition to being used to fine dining and quality service, Aldridge points out that many of their residents are also drawn to local flavors and foods they’ve been accustomed to eating for many years. “There’s a local restaurant called Chickahominy House that has been known locally for over 40 years for their ham biscuits, Brunswick stew and buttermilk pie,” he says. “Our director of dining got to know their head chef to learn their recipes, and once a month we serve a Chickahominy House meal, just as they would. Executive Chef Lauren Morris and her team cook everything from scratch, nothing comes in frozen, so we can also cater to any food allergy or dietary need as we’re preparing.”
“People all over the country are having to do this because it’s what Baby Boomers expect,” says Smith. “Dining out is a very social activity for people. It’s a big aspect of their lives. And they want options, which is why we have a bistro where they can have breakfast or lunch in a more casual environment, then we have the fine dining restaurant where Executive Chef Willie Moats and his team do a five-course tasting menu several nights a week. We have a lounge where residents can go to get drinks if they want, and we have our River Terrace dining room, where we have al fresco dining during the warmer months, and residents can get one of the best filets and crab cakes in town. We also have our own wine sommelier, and we do wine tastings every Wednesday. We do wine dinners for the residents where we bring in a vintner, and the residents can learn about the wines while they dine on Willie Moats’ food. That’s what people expect this day and time.”
To take the term “restaurant quality” to an even higher level, the Dining Services team at Mennowood is also ServSafe® Certified. “That’s above and beyond what the Department of Health requires,” says Aldridge. “We want anyone who will be anywhere near food to be fully trained on how to safety handle and serve it.”
In addition to raising the bar on fine dining options for residents, there’s a wellness component that comes into play. Harbor’s Edge and Mennowood both offers healthy cooking demonstrations for the residents who want to prepare their own meals from time to time. “Our residents have these fabulous residences with gorgeous kitchens in them, and a lot of our residents still like to cook,” she says. “So we teach them how to cook healthy and give them new culinary options. They’ll participate, pull up a stool and have a glass of wine while watching the chef prepare something, or we’ll have a class on certain kinds of foods and how to incorporate healthier options. It’s all about making our residents happy and meeting their expectations.”