The Social Experiment

Colleges and restaurants invite socialization through menus and venues.

Menus, presentations and venues are all tools foodservice oeprators use to encourage customers to socialize —in both non-commercial operations and restaurants.

University of Connecticut, Storrs, Conn.
The renovated McMahon Dining Hall at the University of Connecticut features a new state-of-the-art open kitchen and dining counter that puts students at the heart of the cooking action. With a new menu of globally-inspired small plates, the remodeled setup is meant to encourage greater student interaction than the 1960s-era stainless-steel serving line it replaced

The $9 million renovation swapped the institutional look for a more restaurant-like ambience. Cooking platforms have been moved from the back of the house into plain view in the dining room, including new tandoori ovens for Indian fare and woks for Asian dishes. Seating has been upped from 320 to 530, including 45 counter spots.

“Students will eat at the counter while watching food being prepared in front of them,” says director of dining services Dennis Pierce. “From a customer standpoint, it is a wow experience.”

The menu emphasizes small plates from many cuisines, chosen for their wide popularity and the thought that they will appeal to UConn’s growing number of international students. In addition, dining on a variety of small items promises to be more engaging for students than sitting over a single plate of food.

“Now you have to talk to the person behind the line,” says Pierce. “You may not be familiar with the ingredients or the dish. It will heighten the whole educational experience and it will force us to be fully knowledgeable about what we are serving.”

Commercial Inspiration: Pampano Botaneria, New York
Pampano Botaneria, part of the Richard Sandoval restaurant group, is all about botanas— Mexican-inspired small plates similar to tapas. What is unique about some of these tasty nibbles, generally priced at $7 to $9 each, is their arrival at the table in unique serving ware that seems to stimulate conversation and sharing more than conventional plating methods.

Take the Taco Sampler, a presentation of three crispy tacos with different fillings perched upright in a notched board. Making up the trio are chilorio, or pulled pork, smoked swordfish and rajas con queso, a mix of poblano peppers, corn, cheese and crema. For larger parties, the kitchen sends out a sampler board with nine taco notches.

“It is very exciting because you can sample tacos with very different, contrasting ingredients,” says executive chef Lucero Martinez.

Another eye-catcher is the Guacamole with Chicharron, which combines a serving of fresh avocado dip with a large sheet of crispy fried pork rind suspended vertically in a wire holder.

“People just crack off a piece of chicharron and dip it in the guacamole, just like in Mexico,” says Martinez. “This is probably the most fun one we do.”

All eyes are on the Filete Mignon Skewer—tasty chunks of grilled beef on a miniature sword—when it arrives at the table.

“Every botana we serve is plated in a fun way with the purpose of people being able to share,” Martinez notes.

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
staff pack

To keep staff motivated, we locked them in a room together. As part of a midsemester training session, we formed work groups and sent them to a local Escape Room to see which team could play the game together most effectively and escape first. Not only was this training a great team-building experience, but it supported a local new business and gave our staff a memorable experience.

Ideas and Innovation
star employee

Senior leadership meets twice a year to do organizational talent planning for every position from the top down. We talk about who are the potential high-performers, and go through how they can grow. People are your differentiator—you need to take care of your assets, and your assets are your human resources.

Industry News & Opinion

Students at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor will be served student-grown produce from the campus farm at dining halls this fall, M Live reports.

The dining team received its first batch of produce from UM’s on-campus farm in June, after students received the proper USDA certification to grow, harvest and deliver food to campus dining halls. In order to figure out what produce is needed, students communicate with the dining department weekly, and Michigan Dining purchases items accordingly.

"The students are involved from seed to plate," Executive Chef Frank Turchan...

Sponsored Content
college students eating

From Ovention.

Today’s colleges and universities know they should offer more than a large selection of breakfast cereals in the morning and chicken tenders at lunch to appeal to students. When it comes to what’s trending on campuses, here’s a look at what directors can tune into to boost engagement.

1. Expanded dining hours

Late-night options have long been a popular fixture on college campuses, but if it’s too late, students often choose to venture to off-campus retailers to satisfy their cravings. According to Technomic’s 2017 College & University Consumer Trend...

FSD Resources