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The New Berkshire: Flash, Freshness and Flexibility

Product of a nine-month, $14 million renovation project, UMass’s new Berkshire Dining Commons opened at the end of January 2007 and has been an unqualified success. The 25,000-sq.ft. eatery sees as many as 7,000 diners a day, a more-than-75-percent jump from its previous totals and far outpacing any of the other three campus dining halls.

Those hordes of diners have apparently left satisfied as they gave the dining hall a 9 rating on a 1-10 scale overall in the spring survey, a substantial jump from the 7.5 earned by the pre-renovation Berkshire.

And no wonder. The space is visually striking, from the vertical stripes of lighting gracing the entrance to the natural slate flooring and the cool blue-toned mosaics and wooden accents.

Multi-level seating and open-display cooking stations project an ambiance of thoroughly modern dining, while the 11 station concepts not only emphasize freshly prepared food but have the flexibility to shift concepts.

So the deli station can morph into a sushi bar, the noodle bar can transform into a burrito bar and the International Cuisine station can travel the world—from India and Southeast Asia to Latin America and the Mediterranian—without adjusting equipment.

“We worked with the architects and foodservice consultants [designer/architect Livermore, Edwards & Associates and food consultant Kevin Cromwell] from Day One to build in flexibility in design and equipment,” Toong says.

The stations are ranged among four separate serving areas designed to optimize traffic flow as well as labor efficiency (meals per labor hour jumped from 6.5 to 8.5 with the renovation). The core is a central hub ringed on three sides by eight distinct, self-contained stations ranging from a Chef’s Table with rotating hot dishes and the made-to-order International Station to pasta and grill concepts.

Elsewhere in the servery are stations offering vegetarian/vegan selctions, pizza from a huge brick oven and a deli/sushi bar.

There is also a separate grab and go section on the lower level for students on the run. The area has seating for 800 and includes a glassedin space called the Berkshire Room for education, entertainment and meetings or special functions. The department uses it to conduct cooking seminars or to host presentations by cookbook authors and sustainability advocates.

And to close the deal on customer satisfaction, Toong added another bonus: Berkshire is open until midnight Monday through Thursday (and 9 p.m. Friday through Sunday) in recognition of today’s students’ schedules. The other dining halls close an hour earlier.

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