RetComLife #16 – Cloud Kitchens & Café Dining

My retirement community is struggling to keep the dining services up to their usual standards. Wait staff is nearly impossible to find during this pandemic, so the salaried staff are having to provide that service in addition to their usual responsibilities. That is putting stress on everyone.

The fact that the meals here cater almost exclusively to those who like bland unseasoned foods is a serious minus for many of us! Today’s Featured Entrée here is beef enchiladas, and they clearly state (not spicy). For someone like me, who enjoys a wide variety of tastes and seasoning, that is very disappointing, What can be done to make retirement community dining more pleasurable to all of us. That is what these next few posts here at RetComLife will be all about. Let’s look at some of the alternatives.


Cloud Kitchens

Cloud Kitchens, also known as “ghost kitchens” or “dark kitchens” are showing up in more and more retirement communities that are looking for a paradigm shift in how they provide food services. Cloud kitchens are basically restaurants that don’t have a physical storefront or a dining room. The food is cooked in the kitchen and then delivered to or catered to other sites. While the cloud kitchen trend is still budding, it is definitely on the rise.

This option since it priced on per-meal can be substantially lower than communities that do it all themselves. They offer more flexibility in the menus provided. Cloud kitchens don’t just provide their service to one community, but usually have several customers. I have been in my community for going on five months now, and the meals haven’t changed much in that time. I have shied away from the featured entrées as they are a disappointment at least half the time. So, that leaves a list of a dozen or so fall-backs that rarely change from week to week.

More and more senior living providers are exploring using cloud kitchens to supplement and in some cases replace their in-house services.

Café Dining

Another exciting approach that is being used by senior communities is a café option in addition to their sit down restaurant.” A café” is a restaurant that does not offer table service. Customers order their food from a counter and for the most part serve themselves. A café menu traditionally offers things such as coffee, espresso, pastries, and sandwiches, but many also offer a wide variety of food. Depending on the size of the community, some cafés are even broken down to different ethnic foods, similar to food courts in shopping malls. According to the data, café dining reduced the restaurant style sit-down dining in many retirement communities by as much as 40%. I, personally, think I would use that option at least 70% of the time. Also, because of the significantly reduced staff needed, some also offer extended hours of operation. Looking forward, the experts in dining services predict that specialties in food services, that didn’t exist just a few years ago, will become much more common in the near future.


Next week, I will be talking about other trends in senior living food service that are expected to expand in the coming years.