Renovating and building new dining concepts can prove a daunting task. FoodService Director checked in with operators involved with eateries that just hit the one-year mark to discuss what worked with the revamped spaces and what lessons they’ll carry into the future.
1. Keep it simple
Last summer, Gathering Place at Sparrow—Sparrow Hospital’s revamped eatery in Lansing, Mich.—opened its doors to provide hospital staff and guests with made-to-order meals.
While the space is an improvement, Executive Chef Laura Fellows, who was hired midway through construction, wishes Gathering Place’s equipment better reflected the needs of the space and her staff.
“They put in a lot of beautiful equipment that we don’t utilize. If I was going to do this again, I would standardize the equipment a little bit more,” says Fellows.
Despite such challenges, Fellows says Gathering Place’s pros outweigh the cons. Among the front-of-house components, Fellows says one of the most successful is a dividing wall that allows staff to close off food stations that are not in use during breakfast and late-night hours.
“We can limit some of the seating so our security team isn’t trying to monitor 24,000 square feet, 24 hours per day,” she says.
2. Emphasize flexibility
Completed last fall, the revamped Pitchforks Dining Hall at Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz., welcomed students back from summer break with a new look that focused on providing customizable, fresh options.
Resident District Manager for Aramark Mike Mesenbrink and General Manager for Aramark Sara Royce agree that one of the most beneficial aspects of the revamped space is its ability to keep up with an ever-evolving student body that’s starting to expect more nutritious options.
“Students are becoming more health-conscious and are interested in where their food is sourced,” Royce says. “There is also an increase in students’ demand for vegan and vegetarian options.” Both say the Asian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean sections have been especially popular with the 2,300 students served daily.
3. A surprise success
At the renovated Findlay Commons at Pennsylvania State University, fresh produce has been a hit with students. One of the most popular areas at the University Park, Pa., eatery is Market East. Set up like a convenience store, the market includes a variety of produce options, yogurt parfaits and dry produce.
Director of Residential Dining Jim Richards says Market East was designed to offer an array of produce options compared to other markets on campus, a feature that will be carried into future renovations. “We realize that our guests are now expecting more produce choices in particular in our markets,” he says.
Since Findlay opened one year ago, the dining team has also stumbled upon unexpected dishes that have struck a chord with students. At the chef’s table station, for example, the original plan was to rotate the cuisines monthly. However, the customizable burrito option proved so popular that it ended up remaining as a long-term item, and will soon be moved a different section of the eatery so the chef’s table can be used for its intended purpose.