With our senior citizen population rapidly growing, I want to pass on some tips from my time consulting and working within care-based facilities across Canada. As an operator, ensuring that you are mindful of seniors’ needs will help you connect with this large population base. Considering the requirements and changing palates of our senior population will truly help operators in the long run. Simple and small alterations to existing dishes can help with the quality of life for seniors.

Here are 10 tips on how to cater to ELDERLY customers:

1. Menu verbiage:

The majority of seniors we cater to are accustomed to the “meat and potatoes” style of cuisine of the past. When building menus and when briefing front-of-house team members, keep in mind that some seniors may not understand culinary terms or trendy ingredients.

If  dishes or ingredients are not explained in detail, they may not understand what it is, or why they would want to order it. For instance, some seniors, may have an issue trying to picture this a kale salad,  as in their era, kale was often used as a garnish leaf on a salad bar!

2. Portion size:

Portion sizes of all components within a dish don’t need to be large, and the protein cut (if applicable) can be a smaller physical size as well. As we age, our appetite decreases and that appetite or taste may also be affected by medications. When many seniors were growing up, the notion of having to finish everything on their plate was drilled into them, as such, it’s a good idea to offer an option of a seniors cut, reduced size, or half-portions of the dish for their smaller appetites. If this is an option for seniors as well as other customers, they may be more willing to come back to your establishment if you are responsive to their specific needs.

10 tips on how to cater to elderly customers

3. Reduction of salt and sugar:

Too much salt and sugar can be bad for anyone. These seasonings can even be hazardous for people with certain medical conditions. Have your wait staff ask if a reduction of salt and sugar is needed. The addition of fresh or dried herbs, citrus, garlic or vinegar can help bolster flavour when salt and sugar need to be reduced.

4. Music and television volume:

Sometimes loud music and TV can ruin a meal before it is even served. Having a conversation with your customers and asking them about the volume level is a fantastic way to connect and show your respect. If needed,  turn down the volume or see if the customer would be more comfortable in a different section or area of your establishment.

5. Room for assisted walking devices:

Seat customers with assisted walking devices in a section with close proximity to areas to store those devices. These devices provide independence, especially if they are required to use the restroom or move about your establishment. We need to ensure that we are not treating individuals differently or disrespectfully because of  age or mobility issues.

10 tips on how to cater to elderly customers

6. Font size on menus:

Service staff should be trained to help people with sight issues understand the menu. Sensitivity and patience training is a good way to have your front-of-house team members demonstrate their respect for all customers. Taking your time and being patient with customers will help make them feel welcome; if they feel welcome and accepted, you will receive recurring business.

7. Specialized menus:

Looking at your customer base, is there a large segment of a specific demographic? If so, consider offering them a tailored menu. Many restaurants offer a kids’ menu and this idea is similar. When designing your tailored menu, look at cost, portion size, reduction of salt and sugar, and the ability to share main courses or appetizers as options.

8. Texture of dishes:

With devices like dentures, some people have difficulty eating dishes with certain textures. Hard, or crunchy items can be a massive hindrance to some, as could a dish with many fried, crunchy items, toffee or hardened sugar. Consider cutting proteins into smaller pieces or process foods into different textures. Have team members ask customers any necessary questions in order to get all information needed.

9. Ask questions when taking reservations:

This can help the team become knowledgeable about customers and their needs even before they set foot within your establishment. Front-of-house staff should ask about assistive devices, allergies, or needed alterations to dishes – getting these answers upfront will enhance your customer’s dining experience.

10. Reaching out to long-term-care (LTC) and retirement communities:

Having great relationships with the other businesses in your community can increase the number of seniors patronizing your hospitality establishment. If you notice you have a day or meal period that is a bit slower, offer this time slot to the LTC or retirement community and have them bring residents in to dine. This can help build a relationship with the community and possibly get some recurring business moving forward.

Let’s all do our part to keep our hospitality establishments thriving and growing alongside the needs of our Canadian seniors. Inclusion and understanding of their specific needs will ensure that your business is evolving and being a positive part of your community. My goals are delicious, nutritious food and a warm and welcoming hospitality experience consistently and for all.

About the author:

Daryl Neamtu, Red Seal Chef
President and Founder, DN Hospitality

With a diverse background in hospitality that includes high-end eateries, government residences and high commissions, tourist destinations and cruise lines around the world, Daryl has returned to Canada and has turned his focus to developing a team specializing in dietary/culinary consulting primarily to the long-term care and retirement community.

Daryl’s time in the long-term care and retirement communities opened up a whole new passion for him and he saw an opportunity to utilize his expertise in foodservice and hospitality to impact the nutrition and care for seniors. Joining a consulting company in a corporate chef role, Daryl focused on working with clients to develop pleasurable dining programs with safe, delicious and nutritious means that are age and culturally appropriate. His consulting experience encouraged him to develop and facilitate training programs in food service technology within the long-term care and retirement field.

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