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

Sponsored Content
chili flakes and peppers spicy hot

From Catallia.

When planning your menus, take note: college and university students think spicy is hot.

Fifty-seven percent of consumers age 18-34 find spicy flavors, “extremely appealing,” according to Technomic. And almost 50% of college students surveyed said they would like their schools to offer more ethnic foods and beverages, states a recent Technomic College & University Consumer Trend Report. Translation: they like their food kicked up a notch!

More Options than Ever

“Students of today are all about flavor,” says Steve Mangan, director of dining for...

Industry News & Opinion

Sodexo is partnering with celebrity chef Robert Irvine in an attempt to provide military communities with healthier meals.

The 10-year partnership will allow Sodexo to access chef Irvine’s knowledge of nutrition and fitness in its aim to benefit the quality of life for military members, the vendor said in a news release.

Sodexo hopes that Irvine’s popularity as the host of Food Network’s "Restaurant: Impossible" will draw attention to its commitment to nutrition, health and well being. Irvine also has a military history himself—before embarking on his culinary career, he...

Industry News & Opinion

The cafeteria at the Smithsonian's new National Museum for African American History and Culture is intended to be an extension of the museum, showcasing stations that offer cuisines from different geographic locations such as the Creole coast and agricultural South, Time reports .

The eatery, Sweet Home Cafe, was set up to highlight the wide range of African-American cuisine, Executive Chef Jerome Grant told Time. When it officially opens later this month, it will serve dishes such as shrimp and grits, pan-roasted oysters and a fried catfish po’boy.

Celebrity chef Carla...

Sponsored Content
Pierce boneless wings

From Pierce Chicken.

Spicy chicken wings have taken off as an iconic American food since their debut at the Anchor Bar Restaurant in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1964. They reached a new milestone during Super Bowl 50 weekend in February, when more than 1.3 billion wings were consumed, according to the National Chicken Council.

The emergence of boneless wings—breaded, boneless chunks of chicken breast with zesty flavors—has made a good thing even better. In fact, research shows that boneless wings complement traditional bone-in wings on restaurant menus, boosting the entire wing...

FSD Resources