Higher education dining facilities are becoming key functions that support a school’s image and social experience. The dining experience reflects an enlightened student consumer who expects restaurant quality, fresh options, speedy service, flexible spaces and hours, and an environment that mixes eating with social and study activities. Dining today highlights flexibility and diversity in food choices and environments that respond to the millennial expectations.
Food service providers are responding to students interested in healthy choices, farm to table, organic, and fresh options menus are now featuring “home-cooked” meal selections as well as a broad range of ethnic and fusion foods. Many of these food options are packaged fresh and offered as a grab-and-go for students with tight schedules. This also requires architects and interior designers to respond to the evolving dinging trends.
Evolving academic dining wants and needs have changed the planning paradigm for new and renovated dining halls. For example, technology has been instrumental in advancing the speed of service and reducing wait time. Pre-ordering kiosks are now interfacing with food items. E-messaging allows students to enter selections which are displayed on overhead monitors indicating pick up time. Completed orders are displayed on monitors and linked to student laptops or sent as text messages.
Servery designs that feature scatter lines or marchés are still growing in popularity, streamlining personal preference and reducing wait time. This multiple venue format creates a “marketplace” feel and gives students direct contact with the food server, accommodating specific orders and product feedback. Dining rooms are planned to resemble the “Starbucks” or “Panera” environments that feature booth seating, high tables and counter seating in addition to traditional tables of six and eight. These features give today’s students a variety of options to gather, meet and study informally based on their choice of social interaction.
Additionally, dining rooms have been reduced in scale and now feature a variety of spaces interconnected, varying from open to cloistered seating areas. Special events or private dining areas with adjacent meeting rooms are perfect for study groups or social gatherings that incorporate food. Many of these satellite spaces, used for pre-function or furniture storage to accommodate large functions, are also located near circulation patterns outside of the main dining facility to accommodate after-hours use when food service is closed.
When master planning new residential and dining facilities or updating existing buildings, architects take into deep consideration aesthetic, operational and functional issues with regards to these trends of diversity of offerings, multi-purposes spaces and student dining expectations.
All Photos: Robert Benson Photography / CBT Architects