Glittering Hearst Tower, which opened last October amidst Manhattan’s fabled skyline, features a dining facility that exists in two disparate worlds: those of its fashionable, star-studded readership and celebrity hangers-on, and its working class employees. Flexibility, clearly, is key.
The café inside the company’s 46-story glass-and-steel world headquarters on West 57th Street, designed by architect Lord Norman Foster, must simultaneously represent the image-conscious corporate culture for which Hearst is known and provide affordable dining (the cost of an average meal is under $7) for its editors and staff.
It also represents the first time that Hearst employees, who previously worked at 12 scattered sites, have been brought together inside a single corporate cafeteria. In all, about 2,000 Hearst employees in the New York metropolitan area have access to the building.
Urban living room: “We look at the headquarters as home, and the café is part of the urban living room,” says Brian Schwagerl, vice president of real estate and facilities. “The dining facility is really one that encourages people to share ideas, like at a kitchen table at home.” Restaurant Associates Managed Services operates all foodservices and catering.
The third-floor Café 57, which was designed in part by consultants Beer & Associates, can hold up to 350 people at a time, and serves close to 1,200 people a day. Hearst even held its grand opening gala in the space, converting it into a stage area to accommodate popular entertainers.
“We’ve had anniversary parties and HR events, too,” says Schwagerl. “We’re going to have our  holiday party in there for which we’re going to have theatrical lighting and all sorts of unusual things. The café takes on many, many different chameleon-like identities.”
Naming it Café 57 shows that “by its very nature we consider it more of a restaurant-style eating experience than we do a cafeteria,” he adds.
The staff includes two full-time sushi chefs, and regularly prepares a variety of international cuisines. The menu also features “stylized recipes” reflecting each of Hearst’s magazines, such as Good Housekeeping and Redbook. Chefs regularly bring food prep out into the customer area for special dishes.
Making changes: Reconfiguring Café 57 involves moving lots of furniture, which is a collection of “very high-end” German and Italian pieces like leather chairs. Some of the bars, which were also designed by Foster, are also detached from the French limestone flooring and are moved for various events.
Lighting is key in helping create the all-important upper-crust ambience and reinforce the publications’ personalities. “We may have a pink ‘Cosmo-type of feel,’ or sort of a jazzy cool blue ‘Esquire feel’ to it,” says Schwagerl. “It just depends on what it is you want to do. [On a recent day] we ha[d] various types of large holiday ornaments hanging from the ceilings that gave off “champagne glow.”
At various times, a chef’s table will be moved into the café so that visiting celebrity chefs can team up with in-house chefs to whip up special themed dishes before diners’ eyes. Says Schwagerl, “They’ve done everything from folk rock presentations to surf-and-turf and even some signature chocolate desserts by our full-time pastry chef.”
Day’s notice: How far in advance Hearst’s staff begins to reshape the space “depends on the event itself,” says Schwagerl, “but it could take as much as a day in advance. In fact, we may have to shut down the café and just do take-out service for that particular day on which we’re preparing for a party. We try to work around the affixed furniture where we can; not all parties require that we move every single piece of material there.”
The cost of reconfiguring the new café is still being worked out, says Schwagerl, “but it’s part of the normal operating expenses. The idea is that I’m not going out to a Le Cirque for a party, or having to rent Tavern on the Green. I take the space and make it multi-functional so that, through various décor and lighting choices, the selection of the menus and maybe the signature drink of the evening, it becomes fresh and different, new and exciting, and very inviting for people to come in and enjoy.”
Flexibility in Motion
Simple reconfiguration converts UNLV dining rooms for full-service catering.
The University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) dining program puts flexibility on its menu with a pair of dining areas whose contours are more often than not in motion.
One area serves students on board plans. The other is in the student union building, which also houses a variety of retail outlets as well as the “very large” commons area in which the dining room sits, according to Justin Lanting, director of catering for Sodexho.
The board plan dining room seats around 300, and is located in the Hazel Wilson Dining Commons. The student union dining area can seat 380. (Sodexho also handles nine board rooms across the campus, including the president’s office, which are used mainly for executive lunches.)
Grand opening: The student union dining area was used right out of the gate for the building’s official grand opening celebration in September, and according to Lanting “we had to reconfigure the whole student union to accommodate the guests.”
Sodexho began by rolling out some additional, 60-inch-wide cocktail tables, which were configured into clovers. “We also have simple two-top tables that we push together,” Lanting notes. “We expected around 2,000 people for this grand opening, so a lot of it involved just reconfiguring it to make it more accessible to all the traffic flow and other needs.”
Sodexho staffers also set up three buffets. “We angled each of the buffets for the three entrance areas so that there was easy access in. We ended up getting just around 1,900 through the buffets, so we did quite well.” High-topped tables were also brought in for use as beverage stations.
The student union dining area features what Lanting calls “a really unique situation where we have basically a false wall.” For the event, half of the area near the wall was used for trash cans and a condiment station, and the other half a bar area. There were six beverage stations in all.
“We basically had to expand the dining room out into the commons area,” Lanting recalls, “so the major walkways also had to have the small, two-top tables. We pushed a lot of them together, utilizing the area 100% so that we could seat at least 500 inside.”
Details, details: The staff also used décor touches to help delineate areas within the space. Says Lanting, “Decorations were a key part of it. The trend seems to be more in using fruits and food as decoration. We had a number of displays to enhance the look of the room, and because of the high ceilings we could go up another three or four feet next to a cocktail table.”
The actual moving of furniture is handled by the university’s building maintenance crews. Scheduling usually includes two hours of reconfiguration. “Sometimes it takes longer,” Lanting notes, “but it’s also a good opportunity for staff to auto-scrub the floors, make sure they’re cleaning the legs of tables and things like that.”
The board plan dining commons also gets reconfigured for a number of different events, including resident dining hall dinners in which Sodexho staffers try to upscale the surroundings into what Lanting terms “more of an elegant type of atmosphere. We’re lucky enough to have sections in our dining commons, so that we can actually simulate a special room.”
While there are no movable walls, the contractor makes good use of floral decorations. “We have a number of fresh plants that we can easily move and manipulate so that it creates the illusion of a separate room and something special,” says Lanting. “The plants really do that because they’re three to six feet high and it makes it really nice. We also do four-top tables for a more intimate atmosphere for partners or significant others to come together to a nice dinner.”
Lanting and his staff also reconfigure the dining area for a holiday buffet from Thanksgiving through Christmas. Many of the university’s students stay on campus during the holidays because they come from other countries.
“We reconfigure the dining room to reflect more of a holiday-type atmosphere,” he explains. “We move all the tables to the far edge of the room. We can then place a buffet at an angle through the center of the room to simulate an elegant atmosphere.”
The reshaping of the dining areas is not limited to special events, says Lanting. “We do quite a bit for the students. We do a lot of changes [in layout] anyway just to mix things up. And because we have a new building it’s easy for us to do that because nothing is set in stone.”
Timing is Key to Quick Resets Between Meals
Down time between meal periods means space is available for meetings, events.
For Ryan Carpenter, senior relationship manager for Principal Financial Group in Des Moines, Iowa, the key to success with multi-functional dining facilities is timing.
The company operates three dining facilities on its nine-building corporate campus, says Carpenter. “Those areas are used for several different things. Obviously, the primary [purpose for the facility] is seating for people to eat their food, but we also use them for meetings and to hold events.”
Carpenter calls the timing piece the single most challenging part of the multi-use facility equation. His company’s dining staff serves 6,000 people a day for breakfast and lunch, “so we need to be sure we have a place for those folks to gather.”
Narrow window: The dining rooms operate between 6 a.m. and 2 p.m., and there are breaks during that time when employees can use the facilities. “They do a partial shutdown of the hot lines in the cafes from shortly before 10 to shortly before 11,” he says. “They can use those facilities for impromptu meetings and small gatherings in that hour or so time window.”
Such gatherings might require that some tables be moved around to a small degree. “We would send our cashiers out right before lunch service and make sure the dining areas are reset as they should be,” he says.
At two o’clock on the day of an event for 150 or more, PFG brings in its contract facilities group “and they will completely clear out those areas,” says Carpenter. “When we use those spaces the event will take place at 2:30 or three o’clock in the afternoon and go into the evening, five or six o’clock.”
The changeover is handled by a team of six facilities staffers who clear out the space, plus on-site foodservice personnel who set up the décor and table arrangement. “If they really are pressed to do it, they can have the space cleared and set up in 45 minutes,” says Carpenter.