Era Living Dining: A Hotel Experience at Home
One main concern for older adults considering joining a retirement community? The food, of course!
The live-in dining service of senior living can be a welcome change from the prep work, process, and cleanup that comes with cooking. Even when residents enjoy cooking, health conditions can make it more difficult, and thus harder to maintain a healthy, nourishing diet.
This is where Era Living Culinary Services comes in. Each Era Living location has its own community and unique culture, which means that the dining services aren’t identical to each other. But one factor is the same across all communities: for the Culinary Services (CS) team, dining here is much more than just a meal. It’s a personal, connected, and caring experience. And one with a ton of options.
This is not our restaurant — this is their home,” says Justin Rutledge, director of Culinary and Dining Operations. The CS team works every day to accommodate the residents as much as possible, and not just with choice and variety — with balanced, healthy menu options as well. “If we have the ability to make it, the answer’s yes,” Justin says.
Menus: Chef-designed, resident-powered
When it comes to daily dining, the chefs plan all breakfast, lunch, and dinner specials for about 6 weeks out, and refresh them about every 3 months. These menus are reviewed and approved by a staff dietician, so residents can order with peace of mind, knowing that these foods are helping to keep their bodies and minds healthy and energized. (Separate from the specials, à la carte options are also offered and include burgers, fish and chips, and seasonal salads.)
There’s always so many choices, sometimes it can be hard to choose!” says resident Herbert Zeller.
While the menus are chef-inspired and dietician-approved, they’re largely designed around the resident preferences — and reflect each community’s unique culture. Justin says that’s why, for example, the Aljoya Mercer Island residents have raspberries for a mixed-berry cup — even in the winter, when they’re out of season — since this community is always asking for berries. It’s also why there’s an industrial-sized rice cooker at The Lakeshore, home to a large number of residents with Asian heritage. And it’s why house-made pierogies are a mainstay on the à la carte menu at Aljoya Thornton Place. (The residents love them!)
To stay current on what the residents want, the chefs make it a priority to stop and chat with them, whether during meals or when someone has a to-go order request. Through these conversations, they not only grow a personal connection with the residents and their families, but they also learn about common food allergies, cravings, favorites, and preferences. All that information goes into menu planning, and the CS team goal is to make as many residents as happy as possible.
I love the soups here,” says Ida Culver Broadview resident Myrna Latschaw. “The clam chowder is better than what you’d get in a fine dining establishment.
Residents also have the chance to attend fun cooking demonstrations each month, which is another way the chefs can connect with them. Residents are also encouraged to fill out comment cards and attend town hall-style community meetings, and all of that feedback goes into the planning as well.
Breakfast for dinner—with extra TLC
While kitchen and serving hours do vary between communities (some are open all day, while others have closure breaks), the time of day doesn’t limit what you can order from the menu. You can indulge that 6pm craving for blueberry pancakes, or ask for the lunch special at 10am, and as long as the staff has all the ingredients, they’re more than happy to oblige. The same accommodation goes, of course, for any food allergies or restrictions.
The options don’t end there. Taking meals in your room is as simple as placing a delivery order ahead of time, and the kitchen staff will make sure the food gets to you. You can also pop into the dining room and place a to-go order yourself.
I was ill for over a week and had my meals delivered to my room,” says Myrna. “There was always a ‘Get well soon’ card or ‘Hope you’re feeling better’ note that made it feel really thoughtful.
Parties and holidays: Low stress, more fun
The chefs also add personalized service when it comes to catering small parties. Residents always have the option to use the private dining rooms for meals with family and friends. The chefs will work side-by-side with residents to plan the perfect menu, adjust recipes to accommodate any dietary restrictions, and happily re-create beloved family favorites. With all the cooking and presentation off their shoulders, hosting special celebrations is a breeze for residents.
Much like a fine dining restaurant, the CS team also treats the holidays as a time to up their game. To create a festive atmosphere and attract residents’ families to come visit, they set up a special menu and beautiful presentation for holiday meals.
We want the parties, we want the families,” says Justin Rutledge. “If we’re slow on the holidays, we’re not doing it right. We want to put on the best spread in town.
There is always such a lovely setting, [with] fresh flowers used to decorate the dining rooms,” says Ida Culver Broadview resident Jo Ann Lee. “I like the ability to communicate with the hostess on how we’d like to dine. My husband and I are so happy with the weight that has been lifted [from] not having to stress about meals.