Though upgrades are on the horizon for many foodservice operators, 41 percent cite continuing service during renovations as their biggest challenge, according to Food Service Director’s 2014 Big Picture data. Operators who have taken the plunge find that planning, communication and some improvisation are among the keys to success.
Julie Jones, director of nutrition services at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, oversaw the renovation of all OSUMC kitchen and dining facilities from 2012 to 2014. Upgrades included the complete rebuild of the central production kitchen, storeroom areas and dish rooms; renovations to the main café and dining area; and construction of seven new hospitality centers for on-demand dining. New technology optimized ordering and streamlined back-of-house operations by allowing staff to simultaneously monitor multiple hospitality centers.
Now, Jones says, more than 900 people use the self-ordering kiosks, which are linked to digital menu boards.
Throughout the renovations Jones served 3 million annual meals; an achievement she credits to an extensive phasing plan and constant collaboration to anticipate problems and coordinate changes. During the planning stages, Jones foresaw the temporary loss in seating from 300 to 150 and developed a grab-n-go store to decrease volume at the main café, which now serves as an after-hours shop. OSUMC dining now has 525 seats and serves 8,700 people daily at its main campus.
Despite planning, unexpected construction demands forced Jones to make the quick decision to temporarily offer a taco bar and other quick-service options. “You have to think about the space that you have and what you can do with it,” she says.
Working on the fly also helped Iowa State University Dining Services when it was forced to partially renovate its largest dining facility after a 2014 fire damaged one venue in its multi-concept marketplace.
“The biggest challenge was how we were going to retain the original amount of seating. The fire encompassed one venue, but cleanup took over a whole dining area,” says Jeremy Bowker, chef de cuisine at ISU dining. “Thankfully it was still the summertime. Once they got all the cleanup we boxed in just the venue and that opened up the entire seating area again.”
Once construction began, ISU dining permanently merged two venues and developed a new, streamlined concept with pre-plated meals minimizing needed food products.
While upfront planning mitigates construction, Jones warns that mistakes are inevitable. “You will have to make decisions quickly and you may not always have all the information you need, but you’ve got to make them—otherwise you slow construction.”