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Campus Dining Destination Dining

With cooking on display – out of the “back of house” new open market-style dining stations give campus diners a refreshing sense of choice. Restaurant- like selections within distinctive and varied dining environments offer a variety in seating style and comfort. Our dining designs become campus destinations, with new opportunities for social gathering + connection.

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  • Food Service Planning
  • Equipment Specification
  • Kitchen Layout
  • Interior Design
  • Budgets + Scheduling
  • Benchmarking
  • Furniture Finishes + Equipment
  • Space Planning
  • Environmental Graphics
  • Signage-Wayfinding
  • Programming
  • Finishes/Color Schemes
  • Furniture + Accessories Selection & Procurement

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Design Approach + Methodology

College + University Dining Programs

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A transformation has occurred in the student dining programs throughout the country, driven by the rising tide of student expectations and coupled with young people’s growing exposure to a dazzling variety of new and sophisticated restaurants and concepts. An incoming freshman today will have been trained to minimally expect the quality and choices they can find on Main Street in their home town.

The challenge is larger than the taste of food, and in many respects the perceived quality of a meal relies heavily on a student’s perception of the space in which a meal is experienced. Retail branding and experiential marketing has radically increased the importance of the contextual environment for a meaningful and satisfactory dining experience. A cup of coffee at Starbucks is so much more than a hot beverage to today’s consumers. Starbucks, Panera Bread, The Cheesecake Factory and the local chef owned bistro all represent more than a flavor profile but more critically, a lifestyle choice. The design of the space, the music played, and the finishes and lighting selected all join together to create a social atmosphere and mood which is larger than the simple cup of coffee or slice of cheesecake. The value added component of design will measurably enhance the taste of the meals and the pleasure of the dining experience.

Throughout University dining programs the dilemma has been how to capture the qualities associated with real world entrepreneur at the main street restaurant and successfully marry these concepts with a captive and institutional method of production. The solution, from a conceptual standpoint, we believe is simple. Remove the words “captive” and “institutional” from the definition of campus food service. Easily said – more difficult to achieve. The complications and limitations of University dining programs are numerous and include cost constraints, labor management issues , dining schedules and seating capacities. But what we have found in our work on campuses around the country is that there are a variety of new and innovative solutions that can overcome these apparent institutional constraints.

The great and overwhelming beneficial aspect of eliminating the words “captive audience” and institutional practices” from the vocabulary of campus dining is two fold. First, it allows a food service director to serve his students not as meal plan participants, but as customers and guests with choices and dining options. Second, it provides each dining platform manager, chef or server to become an entrepreneur and ambassadors for their own restaurant concept. Pride of place and perceived ownership have a positive transformative effect on quality of service and customer satisfaction.

The history of contemporary food service design started with the end of family style, kitchen-to-table service in a large part after WWII. Stainless steel serving lines focused on volume and efficiency, while large production kitchens gave way to serveries, food courts and finally to marches. The evolution to date has focused on the creation of individually themed platforms within a defined room, separate from the kitchen and most importantly from the dining room.

All the trends that we see today are strongly pointing toward dining environments which create authentic restaurant experiences. Fresh, cook to order meals which feature distinct and complete menu choices have required the development of individual identity design packages that go far beyond the limitations of a small servery platform. Because restaurant style concepts are menu driven, everything from prep, production, display cooking and plating become independent and autonomous to a central kitchen. The benefit to the customer is the perceived and real value of freshness, quality and personalized service.

What we have found from a design perspective is the more we create the restaurant concepts as unique, independent places with distinct iconographic images and surrounding environments, the less institutional they appear, and the more authentic they become. We believe that the days of isolated serveries are numbered. Our experience with restaurant designs points us to the simple conclusion that dining out is at best more than ordering a meal – it is a theatrical event. A moment of entertainment in a day’s routine. It’s a short break which provides a welcomed release from the stress and obligations of life. It’s a moment to briefly escape from the work or study and to enjoy friends and relax. Our responsibility as architects is to create a contextual space or more appropriately, a stage set for these concepts to thrive.


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