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Sunshine, Smiles, and Snacks: The Appeal of Outdoor Dining Spaces


Outdoor dining spaces are must-haves in today’s senior living communities. Residents can use them throughout the day to enjoy a meal, chat with friends or watch a game of bocce. From a programming perspective, they offer ideal seasonal venues for cocktail hours, barbecues, ice cream socials and even outdoor movie nights.

“They are the single most popular space in a community,” said Schelley Hollyday, principal at senior living consulting firm The Hollyday Group. “Residents love them, but there are some very specific design features that need to be there, or they won’t use them.”

outdoor patio area
Hoppmann Group

Paramount among these is protection from the sun, wind, and rain. Her firm recommends locating outdoor dining areas in a sheltered spot such as a covered porch or patio. If that’s not feasible, covered the seating area with extra-large patio umbrellas.

Ideally, the dining patio will have level paving and comfortable yet sturdy seating and will be located next to an indoor restaurant or bistro. “Make it as inviting and comfortable as possible and make it easy for residents to get to and use,” said Jeffrey Anderzhon, senior architect at Eppstein Uhen Architects.

At Watercrest Winter Park, a new luxury assisted living and memory care community in Florida, the outdoor dining area is in a manicured garden just off the main restaurant. The grill and portable kitchen equipment will be used during programmed events to offer grilled fish, meats, and vegetables along with salads and desserts. During the hotter days of summer, a poolside seating area will be used for serving light appetizers and fruit mocktails.

“We’ll take advantage of the comfortable weather during spring and fall months for the residents to enjoy scheduled events, but they are welcome to enjoy outdoor dining every day,” said Whitney Lane, senior vice president of operations at Watercrest Senior Living. Memory care residents have their own garden courtyard where they can enjoy similar events in a secure environment.

An attractive setting with interesting features adds more appeal. At Aspire at Belmont Bay, a resort-style community under construction in Woodbridge, Va., the outdoor dining patio faces a parklike landscaped area with a large lawn, bocce court, shade trees, a pergola, and a wooded border beyond.

In urban areas, rooftop dining spaces can be enhanced with planters, water features and unobtrusive railings that allow residents to enjoy the view while seated.

With thought to design, outdoor dining spaces can be the most popular gathering spots on campus. They offer a healthy combination of sunlight, fresh air, and socialization necessary to resident well-being.

“Outdoor spaces are critical to the quality of life for seniors,” said Anderzhon. “It’s important to think about them as you’re designing the community and not just consider them an add-on. They need to have as much attention to detail and design as the indoor spaces.” 

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