Craft beers, great wine lists and handcrafted cocktails aren’t just for the young. So senior living communities are raising a toast to their residents with onsite pubs and bars, creative cocktails, craft brews and happy hours that keep spirits high.
About 70 percent of assisted living residents drink alcohol, according to a University of Pittsburgh study published in Research on Aging, and it’s likely that the number is even higher for residents at an independent living community. The study also found that of the 70 percent who drink, more than one third have a daily drink.
But that doesn’t mean that most seniors are downing shots or tearing it up at raucous keg parties.
“I’m a lightweight—we all are, pretty much,” 81-year-old Atlanta CCRC resident Faye McCune confided to Senior Housing News.
Most residents who imbibe just want to have a drink or two to unwind at the end of the day, the same way they’ve done for years.
“Generally the average is one or two drinks at the most; drinking is more sipping rather than shot drinking,” says Francesco Tardio, director of dining services at The Clare, a CCRC in Chicago’s Gold Coast.
The upscale dining room at The Clare, The Grafton, has had a lot of success with a good wine list during dinner and Thursday happy hours with wine, beer and appetizers.
“For our residents, happy hour is a social event, not in a drunken context. It’s a time to get together, share life experiences, look for commonalities—it’s a time for bonding. Their drinking habits are definitely different from younger crowds.”
So while seniors are taking it easy with the amount of alcohol they consume, they’re still having fun. Judging from the feedback he’s been getting, Tardio has determined that the happy hours are indeed making people happy.
“Thursday happy hours have become one of the favorite social events in our community,” Tardio says, adding that lately, the dining team has worked with local restaurants (of which Chicago has plenty to offer), allowing them to bring in samples to share. The restaurants promote their businesses to the seniors, who get to try new food, so it’s a win-win.
Other ways to incorporate beer, wine and spirits into the dining program at The Clare have included fancy wine-pairing dinners, bloody Mary bars and mimosas at brunch, an Oktoberfest and most recently, a newly opened full bar with small plates and classic cocktails.
“Variety and fun are the key,” Tardio says.
Working with the life enrichment director has been a big help in making events happen, he adds, and the collaboration has sparked other events like ugly Christmas sweater parties, gala dances, proms and Hawaiian luaus.
At The Clare, go-to cocktails for seniors tend to be the tried-and-true standbys like Manhattans, vodka or gin martinis, or rum and Cokes.
An emerging trend in senior dining turns beer into a project that seniors can actively participate in. At Aspen Ridge, a senior living community with independent living, assisted living and memory care operated by Frontier Management in Bend, Ore., home-brewed beer isn’t just for grandkids.
Residents there can be part of the “Brew Crew” and so far, they’ve created 13 different types of beer. The brews have even been getting statewide recognition, and six packs are available for visiting family members to take home. One of the beers created there, Machine Gun Maggie Imperial IPA has a cool label and proudly proclaims that it was brewed at Aspen Ridge retirement community.
Other senior living communities are finding ways to leverage meeting for drinks into new friendships and business. Happy hour at Oak Pointe Assisted Living in Warrenton, Mo., provides a couple of different opportunities. Once a week, the community opens its doors to the public for happy hour. It’s a way for the residents to feel connected to the outside community, and also “an open-door activity where people can come and go as they please,” according to Oak Pointe Activities Director Christina Medley. This way, those who are curious about maybe moving there themselves can check out the environment in a no-pressure setting. And that’s what happy hour is all about: taking the pressure off at the end of the day.
Photos courtesy of The Clare, Chicago