Why a marketing agency launched culinary coaching for senior living communities.

Culinary Coaching

Why a marketing agency launched culinary coaching for senior living communities.

By Cynthia Thurlow-Cruver, principal at 3rdThird Marketing.

Executive directors and marketing directors at senior living communities ask me the same question: “So what does our culinary program have to do with our marketing?”

In short, just about everything.

“We’re losing sales because of our food.”

For more than 10 years, I’ve been the principal of 3rdThird Marketing, a marketing agency that performs branding, marketing and consulting for the aging services industry. We do a terrific job at branding, digital marketing and generating sales leads for the senior living communities we serve. But over time, we started hearing a similar story from the salespeople: “We had this prospect who was ready to make a deposit, so we took her to lunch at our community to celebrate. But after lunch, she told me they couldn’t move in because the food wasn’t good enough.” And here’s another common thread: “Residents are leaving and moving to [………….] because the food is better there.”

After many years interviewing senior living community residents for branding purposes, I found that 90 percent of the time, food was a problem. And I don’t mean a little problem, but a significant dissatisfaction among residents.

After working with Chef Shawn Boling at several communities, I broached the idea that we could turn around the culinary problem for communities—and voila!! The Culinary Coach was born, with Shawn Boling as principal chef.

Every meal sends a message.

Often, the question right after “How much does it cost to live here?” is “How’s the food?” When food quality causes you to lose prospects, it becomes a marketing problem. When adult children eat with their parents and then write a scathing review about your dining services online—and it gets posted everywhere—it becomes a marketing problem. When residents complain to their social groups and tell all their friends (who are potential future residents), it becomes a marketing problem.

We have clients that invest millions of dollars on remodels to create beautiful interiors and wonderful dining rooms. But if the food is lacking quality or variety, a gorgeous new interior doesn’t matter in the long run. Yet even investing a small percentage into improving the quality of your culinary program can create major results in terms of greater retention, happier residents, better reputation and word-of-mouth advertising.

Think about it this way: Have you ever had an amazing meal in a restaurant that looked like a dive? We all have. In fact, if the food is great, we will forgive a lot, including poor ambience, lackluster service and outdated interiors. But even the most palatial dining rooms fall short if the culinary doesn’t live up to the promise.

Variety is the spice of life.

Living in a confined dining environment day-in and day-out is very different from eating out at a restaurant, which is where I believe the senior living industry is getting this wrong. As we age, dining IS the event of the day. So when menus are cycled over and over and over—it gets very old very fast, even if the meals are relatively good.

I have experienced this firsthand with my mother. She lives in a very nice assisted living community with a beautiful apartment. The nonprofit community is owned by the Lutheran Church and run by a large management company. When I visit her, I stay at the community and we dine together every day.

We go to breakfast (which overall is pretty good), and at breakfast we look at what’s for lunch and dinner and make our plans from there. My mother rolls her eyes at times and says things like, “Oh lord, that again? They keep serving us that.” Or, “The only vegetables they give us are green beans and broccoli.”  My observation on vegetables is they believe that sweet potatoes, cooked peas and corn belong in the “vegetable category” instead of the “starch category.” Anyway, you get the picture.

Because we owe it to our elders.

As a culture we owe it to our elders to do more, especially when they’re paying $4,000+ a month for living and dining (and that’s with no care, mind you). Doing better and not settling for the cardboard taste of status quo is the driving force behind The Culinary Coach. We believe that every community can do better and that’s what we do—turn culinary programs around. We can show why it makes financial sense to drop your contract dining provider and manage it on your own. In the end, you’ll have a dining program that you control, with better food, healthier residents and savings on cost.

We owe it to our elders to improve dining. And you owe it to your bottom line. To borrow from the old Nestlé slogan “Good food. Good life,” we can up our culinary game.

As we embark on this blog, we invite you to give us feedback, ask questions and comment. And if you would like a culinary review of your program—to truly understand what’s going on in the kitchen—we can help.

In the months ahead, we will be blogging about culinary issues that affect your community. Some of the topics include, “How to get out of contract with your culinary provider”, “The value of an independent audit”, and “Specific ways that Culinary Coach can save you thousands of dollars a month.” Plus, we’ll offer some great recipes, best practices, and thoughts on how food is medicine, and so much more.

Cheers to a new decade and better food.

Cynthia Thurlow-Cruver is the Principal at 3rdThird Marketing.