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Nourishing connections: The vital role of social dining in aged care

Moving into residential aged care can bring a mix of emotions for older people. This can include a sense of loss, isolation and loneliness. Some may miss the activities and social interactions they once loved. During this change, the dining room can be an important space, for eating and for making connections. Engaging mealtimes can improve a person’s quality of life, which then contributes to people eating more and getting better nutrition.

The importance of social dining experiences

The dining room is more than just a place to eat. It’s a place for social interaction and engaging with community. It’s here that residents come together to satisfy their hunger and a deeper hunger for human connection. Understanding this, residential services must prioritise dining environments that are great for eating and social interaction. A welcoming and accessible dining space can help ease the change for residents and create a feeling of belonging in the community.

Health benefits of social dining

Having meals together in a group setting  provides an opportunity for residents and staff to socialise. It can also create chances for staff to observe and offer support. Taking part in social activities has also been shown to boost mental and physical health. By creating a space where residents can connect with one another over a meal, aged care facilities can encourage a feeling of purpose, belonging, and fulfillment.

Supporting inclusive social dining

There are many ways providers can support and promote inclusive social dining. For example, things that can improve dining for people with vision or hearing impairments include:

  • designing layouts that leave space for wheelchairs, seating positions and lighting 
  • having enough staff to help with mealtime set-up 
  • accessible, clear menus with larger fonts and photos of food.

Encouraging participation in social dining

Creating an appealing, welcoming and comfortable dining space can encourage participation and something that residents look forward to. Buffet-style meals can provide residents with greater choice and flexibility, encouraging people to engage with the activity and one another. Social events such as happy hours or involving residents in event planning can also help to develop a sense of ownership and belonging for residents. Other ideas we have seen include onsite cafés or outdoor areas for residents to enjoy a meal with others.

Examples of success

Several residential services have done an excellent job creating enjoyable and accessible dining spaces by promoting social dining. One facility hosts a monthly gentleman's club, where male residents get together to share meals, conversation and friendship. Other creative ideas include personalised name tags for seats and commemorative celebration cakes (as shown below). These small ideas encourage social connections and create a feeling of belonging. 

Cake with decorations
Commemorative celebration cake (Image courtesy of Cedar Place Aged Care Facility, Kempsey NSW)


Cake in the shape of a train
Commemorative celebration cake (Image courtesy of Cedar Place Aged Care Facility, Kempsey NSW)

Social dining has many benefits, however providers should be aware that there are also people who may feel less comfortable having their meals in the dining room or who prefer to eat alone. Their preferences may be influenced by their personality traits, circumstances or because of the behaviours of others, such as fellow residents or staff. Understanding and respecting a person’s preferences is important to achieve person-centred care. 

Commission resources

For more information and resources on dining, visit:

  • Food, nutrition and dining resources
  • Analysis of a survey of food and dining experiences in residential aged care services – this report provides a summary of key factors that appear to contribute to positive experiences of food, nutrition and dining in residential aged care
  • Food, Nutrition and Dining Webinar 2 – a case study in food, dining and nutrition at residential aged care provider Whiddon.
  • The Food, Nutrition and Dining hotline (1800 844 044) - offers support to the sector, providing a platform for approved providers, aged care staff, health professionals, recipients of aged care, and their representatives to address inquiries, questions, concerns, or complaints. Callers receive expert advice and guidance from dietitians and speech pathologists in the Commission’s FND Advisory Support Unit

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