Modernize holiday offerings to appeal to the savvy baby boomer generation
Like a distant, yet powerful wave rolling onto shore, baby boomers are making a huge splash in the senior living space. Change is inevitable as they arrive after a lifetime of sophisticated dining and acquired tastes for global legacy cuisines. Their expectations run high, especially during the holidays, and we checked in with operators creating experiences that resonate across generations.
“Boomers are very savvy about their food,” says Scott Kirchhoff, director of nutrition at Citizens Memorial Healthcare in Missouri. That’s guiding a push toward flash cooking, fresh ingredients and more global offerings at the network of seven long term-care facilities and 86-bed hospital. For Kirchhoff, who also oversees the hospital’s vibrant catering arm, it underscores the need to continually innovate and interact with the community. Everyone’s involved, from the marketing team right up to the CEO, who makes a point of attending as many holiday events as possible to mingle with residents.
At Texas’ Oak Ridge Manor, the incoming generation is proving a bit of a challenge with their connectedness. Not to each other, but to their devices, says certified dietary manager Donna Ynostrosa. Exhibiting some of the same characteristics as their grandchildren, these newer residents prefer fast-food options, and would rather stay in their rooms playing with smartphones than socialize at the dining room table. It’s a source of some frustration for Ynostrosa, who bubbles with dozens of ideas that have delighted current residents for years.
At a previous Thanksgiving, she stirred up a trio of beloved homemade soups; at Christmas, transformed the dining room into a dessert wonderland; and livened up January with a Disney-inspired “Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue,” complete with buckets of fried chicken. She is determined to lure boomers out of their rooms by emphasizing five-star restaurant quality meals, homemade chef salads and loaded baked potatoes, and more lively events. True to form, this year’s Halloween consists of “mummy” hot dogs wrapped in puffed pastry and candy corn cupcakes.
Even at Omaha’s Rose Blumkin Jewish Home (RBJH)—known as “Disneyland for the elderly” with a Main Street promenade— an authentic deli and one of the most generous allocations of food spend in the industry, the generational clash requires a tricky balancing act.
“The boomers coming in are a whole different crowd and we’re diversifying with items like osso bucco and seafood on ciabatta,” says Mike Aparo, director of food services. “But the older residents see this on the menu and ask, ‘what’s that?’”
Fortunately, there are favorites everyone agrees on, such as prime rib entrees and Hanukah latkes. On Christmas Eve, a Chinese meal is served in a nod to the Jewish-American tradition of seeking out the only restaurants open during the holiday.
A point of pride is the Glatt Kosher Star Deli, which “took off like wildfire” since opening onsite in 2010 and continues to win raves for its New York-style pastrami, hand-braided challah bread and latke reubens. Now a go-to catering option for bar mitzvahs and weddings, Aparo may well have ensured RBJH’s high-profile presence for at least another generation.