For residents in an assisted living facility, meals aren’t just about nutrition, they are also an important social outlet. In a recent study on the factors important to consumers when choosing residential care, the Agency for Healthcare Research Quality found that “meals and activities are the daily focus of residents.” Couple that with foodservice trends moving toward more restaurant-level quality and variety, and a senior living meal program becomes an integral and involved enterprise.
So when the Senior Lifestyle Corp. recently opened North Shore Place, a high-end assisted living community in the Chicago-area, management knew it had to take dining to the next level, emphasizing quality and options, along with a more upscale environment. North Shore Place, and its monthly rates that start at almost $6,000, is Senior Lifestyle’s highest tier community. “We find that residents paying those kind of rates expect a certain standard of dining,” says Tony Aloise, senior lifestyle VP of dining, “that’s why even with just 150 residents, we have an ambitious set of eating options with plenty of upgrades and opportunities for engagement.”
Residents attracted to North Shore Place’s community do not want to all pack into the same dining room every day for every meal, Aloise says. Instead, they have the choice of three venues. The Signature Room is a formal luxury dining room with fine china, silverware, tablecloths and a staff that includes a host who greets guests and escorts them to their tables as well as waiters, busboys and runners. Opened for lunch and dinner, the Signature Room offers residents an “upscale, slower, country club-style level of dining,” Aloise says. The menu includes mains like Tuscan brick chicken and grilled flatiron steak; two daily chef’s specials; and an option to order a “Signature Upgrade,” an entrée such as sea bass, lamb chops or lobster tail for an additional charge.
North Shore residents can also dine at the 19th Hole, a grill-style bistro that serves more casual fare such as grilled chicken sandwiches with avocado and bacon, guacamole with freshly made chips, chocolate milkshakes, quesadillas and bruschetta. Lastly, there is a Starbucks-style café in the lobby open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for grab-and-go salads, wraps and deli sandwiches. “Guests can also order warm food such as hot dogs, Rueben sandwiches or mushroom Swiss burgers,” Aloise says. “Those orders are run through our main kitchen and served back in the café for convenience.”
The Signature Room is also transformed one Sunday a month for an elaborate brunch with carving stations as well as a monthly Captain’s Dinner, a very high-end meal that includes, for example, rack of lamb with housemade creme brulee paired with wine and champagne. “Residents bring their friends and family,” Alosie says. “It’s so popular we’ll likely increase it to twice a month.”
There are also featured action stations such as chicken stir-fry, crepe suzettes and bananas Foster as well as cooking demonstrations hosted in the 19th Hole. “People eating in the same area day after day, no matter what it is or where it is, are going to get tired,” Aloise says. “The demos and action stations are a way to infuse more excitement in the program.”
“Competitive communities in the area don’t have a dining program even close to this,” Aloise adds. “We wanted to have the full function of a real restaurant kitchen so we installed a 20-foot hoodline with equipment like chargrills, salamanders, tilt skillets and a 10-burner range for all sorts of sauté cooking.”
Such an operation takes a pretty robust approach to staffing as well. “A typical assisted living facility with 150 residents would maybe have a 100 hours of production a week with maybe one manager for the whole program,” Aloise says, “but we have a director of dining service, executive chef and dining room manager.”
Although Aloise says the community could have hired any chef in the high-end culinary market of Chicago, they were happy to hire executive Chef Derek Oelschlager on the recommendation of North Shore Place’s director of dining services, David Cyplik, who went to culinary school with Oelschlager. “The two work amazing well together, and Derek has brought a real flair of making desserts from scratch—around here he’s renown for his chocolate cake.”
Pouring resources into creating a robust, culinary dining program despite the community’s relatively low occupancy has really paid off. Aloise says residents are very happy with their meal options and are excited to invite their friends and families to dine as guests. As a result, “out of Senior Living’s 175 communities, North Shore Place is generating four times the revenue for dining,” Aloise says.