Restaurant design is all about catching a customer’s eye —and it’s sometimes particularly beneficial to be far-sighted. As Airbnb has proven with its San Francisco headquarters, where cafe spaces are inspired by cities like Cairo and Mumbai, elaborate design schemes that evoke far-flung geographic regions can be done to great effect. But operators are finding simpler ways to achieve that feel.
That’s been the experience of Kutztown University Dining Services in Pennsylvania. Kent Dahlquist, director of housing and dining services, says that when the university decided several years ago to upgrade its dining facilities, students were vocal about one particular demand: a station covering a variety of Asian cuisines. But the university decided to go even further.
On the second floor of the South Dining Hall, Kutztown transformed a grill that had been used for omelets and grilled cheese into a Mongolian flat-top. Inspired by Japanese-style teppanyaki, cooks behind the grill sizzle up meals to order. On the other side of the station, a sushi area is surrounded by low stools.
The changes have already been well-received. “There are always crazy lines at both sides of the station,” Dahlquist says. But as renovations continue, he plans to create a seating area blocked off by Asian-style accordion dividers to carry on the theme.
Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., recently renovated its historic Emerson Dining Hall with a concept that Director of Dining Services Scott O’Rourke describes as “a cafe with a bakery concept.” To fit the impressive architecture of the building, Wheaton’s design firm partner drew inspiration from French influences, with “touches of copper, blue ceramic tile, porcelain tile ‘travertine,’ and French blue and warm yellow accents to create the feel of a Parisian bakery,” he says.