Foodservice Operation of the Month

Adding some pizzazz when food stations go stale

The University of Richmond revisited a few longtime stations and found small tweaks that can make a big impact.
demo meal at University of Richmond
Photo courtesy of University of Richmond

After a while, even the most exciting and popular food station can start to feel a bit blah—especially in noncommercial eateries, where customers visit day after day. But few operations have the time or budget to regularly launch major revamps. 

Fortunately, it doesn’t take a whole renovation or even a menu overhaul to freshen things up. At the University of Richmond in Virginia, Executive Chef Tyler Betzhold and his team discovered how even small updates can create a sense of innovation and novelty.

Retrain staff where needed to boost quality.

Betzhold made several changes to the university’s Mongolian grill station, which included updating sauce recipes and offering even more fresh vegetable options. But perhaps the most important tweak of all was retraining team members on cooking style.

“We really went back and sat with the staff to do a whole how-to on caramelization,” he says. “That’s one of the most important [aspects] for a dish like that: You have to control the heat appropriately, and you don’t want to steam or burn the food either. Getting that right took [this station] to another level, and it was a huge win for us—and a hit with the students.”

See things in a different light.

The university’s main dining hall is currently in the midst of a three-phase renovation, but Betzhold says even small cosmetic changes as part of the first phase have made stations feel new.

“The lighting was, to me, one of the most surprising things,” he says, referring to new fixtures that provide a brighter glow for the pasta, salad and dessert stations. “I’m a chef, so I don’t think much about lighting like that. But when you see everything brightened up, you realize it makes all the difference in the world.”

Consider switching out fixtures—or even just the bulbs—to change the look and feel of your station, he says.

Try additional visual tweaks.

Other approachable cosmetic changes include switching up the color of tablecloths and linens or opting for new dishware. Richmond’s dessert station used to have “round silver platters with that sort of classic doily look,” Betzhold says. Those have since been replaced with simple white dishes that give off a more modern, inviting vibe.

“It feels new and fresh, and we didn’t have to redo all that much,” he says. “You don’t have to reinvent to make a real difference.”

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