Influencing the design team Every source intereviewed for this story emphasized the importance of having directors and chefs involved in the early stages of station and servery design. “That is the best way to ensure that practicality and flexibility are stated goals early-on,” says Pacifico.
“Take ramping up and ramping down— in some locations that can mean taking a station that does 350 covers a day to a special event that handles 3,000 in a single afternoon,” he adds.
“The same space may have to open for an evening event where it does only 75 covers over a 2-3 hour period. The design team needs to understand those needs and how staffing and layout interact in those kinds of situations. If the layout won't allow a single person to operate the station, you will always have to have two as a minimum.”
Directors can also help educate the team to the realities of the campus foodservice environment, says Ricca. “For example, there is a big difference when you talk about an all-you-care-to-eat platform, compared to a cash-only platform,” with registers at each station. Designing stations to be able to handle cash requires extra space and a different configuration.
“Directors should try to establish which approach is needed as early as possible in the process,” Ricca suggests. “When this decision is made late in the game it can add costs and complications to station design.” At the same time, the advantages of structuring new food stations and serveries so they can readily handle both retail and residential meal plan traffic efficiently figures prominently in the future plans of many directors.
At the University of Washington's new Terry/Lander Hall facility, the newlyconstructed cafÈ building that joins both residences has been designed for easy street access, with security access only from it into the actual residential areas. The same is true at Ohio State, where the new Neil St. facility was designed to attract traffic from the Medical Center across the street while also serving as a “swipe friendly” option for campus students on meal plans or with cash cards.
At Vanderbilt, traditionally a retail-only environment, the addition of a meal plan to encourage community dining means “the meal plan is available simultaneously with retail,” says Gladu. “The stations have to provide food that will satisfy both types of customers. Only the cashier needs to know whether you are on a meal plan or on a cash basis.”
Coping with the intense peak demands of the college segment creates its own training issues. “When you have stations designed to offer customization, the person behind the counter needs to understand individual customer needs and negotiate the specifics quickly,” says Executive Director of Dining Nadeem Siddiqui, of Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA.
He believes college directors also need to work on “training customers so they know how to interact efficiently with the person behind the counter. “You have to encourage new customers to learn from experienced ones,” he adds. “Every time we open a station,we put a few staff members in the crowd at the busiest time, to show customers the most effective way to order. If you do it right, you will have ‘seeded' your customer base with the knowledge to help make the station operate more efficiently.”
Many of those interviewed for this story agreed that ventilation and exhaust hood requirements need to figure more prominently in plans for flexibility, beginning earlier in the design process. “It's not uncommon to find facilities that will require five or six hoods but which have been budgeted for two or three,” says Kooser.
“If you have a smaller operation, that's another economy you can add, by designing stations that share ductwork,” he adds.
“It almost never pays to skimp on ventilation equipment,” agrees Bob Mesher, a principal with Mesher Shing Architects and Interior Designers “It doesn't cost that much more to put in the right hoods when you are starting out.
“Take a kiosk that used to serve pizza and has been outfitted with a Type 2 hood to vent hot air and gas. If you want to replace it with a stir-fry concept, you have a hotter temperature and need grease extraction and a fire trap. That requires a more complex hood to meet code and can be expensive to retrofit.
“Sometimes you can dogleg one duct into an adjacent one, but if you want that option, ductwork has to be specified initially to make it available at a reasonable cost.”
Managing dayparts and P&L's Demand for extended hours of service has also caused directors to re-think station needs. OSU took such an approach. So has MIT, in its plans for the foodservice to be offered at the new Stata Center under construction on that campus.
According to MIT's Berlin, a prominent feature of the Center will be a so-called “ student street,” a serpentine-shaped space almost 300 yards long. Foodservices will be managed by Sodexho and will be offered at a strategically located “fork” in the space, capturing traffic at a crossroads where it comes from two parts of campus.
A combination coffee/pastry station will anchor the space from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Set back about 10 feet is a line of other stations that will include a sushi bar, Asian and Indian cooking, deli sandwiches and a bubble tea concept, among others. Most of these will be open only between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., minimizing staffing requirements.
Meanwhile, as demand for retail-oriented environments has increased, the menu crosssubsidization strategies of the past have been phased out. Station concepts “must be financially viable in terms of meeting their own P&L objectives,” cautions Siddiqui.
“You might be able to have a station designed to draw traffic or provide ambience, which itself is not the most efficient or profitable station in the mix, but you can't afford one that isn't at least self-supporting. You have to manage each by its own numbers so you can determine if it's successful or not.”
At the new U of W facility, “each station has its own order list, labor and inventory requirements and revenue stream,” says Executive Chef Jean-Michel Boulot. “Each one has to stand on its own. And if a concept proves not to be viable, the station has to be flexible enough that it can be modified to support one that is.”
P&L demands have led to a lot of creativity in terms of using self-service in nontraditional ways. At the new UC-San Diego dining facility, special event “restaurant nights” offer diners a full service menu at higher-than average ticket prices, but keep meals affordable by using “partial service” in which customers place entree orders at the counter, to be table-delivered when ready, but carry other meal components to the table themselves.
Merchandising takes center stage In order to produce high volumes of freshlyprepared food, “we have de-coupled production from pre-production,” notes Pacifico. “That has let operators shift more of the labor to off-periods.”
It has also put more of a station's space emphasis on managing the display of finished product. “Food is much more visible in today's environment,” he adds.
“Designers are using display technologies from the supermarket world in very creative ways to put food right in front of a customer's eyes. It is very European—‘paninis in your face,' so to speak.”
That means a dramatically different approach to the space right in front of the customer, says Ricca.
“Rather than thinking of a serving area as a single flat plane, 36 inches above the floor, that fills up very quickly, you need to think of filling the face of the counter,” he suggests. “It may be with retail products or artifacts, but they should create a market feel and give depth to the space.”
Ricca suggests the original Eatzi's location in Dallas as a useful model.
“As a customer there, you feel enveloped with product, from low shelves and cases to product way above your head that you can't even reach. Your eye can not find a space where it is not stimulated by something that contributes to the ambience. You never miss the notion that this is a place of abundance.”
At U of W, innovative display options are a key features of a new station concept Boulot is working on for a dining facility set to open at Terry-Lander Hall in September.
Designed as an Asian concept, the station will feature an enclosed, heated glass case in which Boulot will display hanging product, like barbecue, duck and whole chickens prepared in different styles.
The goal is to merchandise food “much like you would find it displayed behind the front windows of food stores in Chinatown,” Boulot says. Menus will be displayed on a plasma screen that can be controlled from the chef's office.
The new facility will also feature a “chef's table” and cookbook library integrated into a display kitchen that is central to the four main stations in the servery. “It will serve as an R&D facility, a training location, a vendor sampling area and a special dining option for VIP events,” Boulot adds.
Flexibility, flexibility, flexibility “There is no longer such a thing as a 20-year station or a 20-year renovation,” concludes Vanderbilt's Gladu. “Today there are threeand four-year renovations. You do not tear out your platform, you convert it, knowing that the power and utilities and ventilation systems are there to let you do that.”
Equipment has to be specified with this kind of flexibility in mind, “and you have to hire chefs who know how to build menus around it,” says Siddiqui. “What is a salad bar today may be a carving station tomorrow. Your chefs need to have the creativity to look at a station's equipment and suggest flexible menus to match it.”
Common mistakes directors make? “Not carrying a concept through to completion,” Mesher says. “Failing to brand it fully— developing the menu, but not working out the concept so that the menu is appreciated. Delivering fresh food but not packaging it correctly so it is perceived as fresh.”
The biggest mistake of all? “ Underestimating the expectations or sophistication of your customers,” Mesher concludes.
A Station Designed for “All-nighter” Customers
Location: The Ohio State University
Station: Street Sweets coffee bar, part of The Marketplace on Neil Street
Challenge: The Marketplace is part of a new facility and residence hall constructed on the southwest corner of the OSU campus, near a large housing complex and directly across from the OSU Medical Center. Its public, street-level location was originally conceived as leasable retail space, but later re-assigned to foodservice. The customer base is broad and includes students on OSU meal plans, retail customers from the street and medical center, and grocery shoppers from full kitchen apartments .
FSD Tim Keegstra was brought into the design team late in the process, but quickly conceptualized a need-based set of criteria for the lead architectural firm on the project (Hammer Associates, Pittsburgh) that became the basis for the servery's design and allows dining services to handle high volumes of retail, residential and public traffic during the day, while also offering campus residents a night-time gathering location in which staffing can be minimized. The Street Sweets station plays a key role in anchoring the extended hours operation and in giving the lounge and seating areas an “open” look even when the main servery is shut down.
Execution: The Marketplace's main serving area was designed as a , scramble station corral, separated from the windowed Neil St. side by a window-wall with cashier exit stations in the middle. This effectively creates a long, public seating area of small tables with a streetside view that is outside the corralled area. (From the street, passers-by can see both the seating and into the actual servery). At night, however, the corral can be shut down and blocked off by flexible roll-down gates that close off the entrance and exit areas between 10 p.m. and 10 a.m..
At the south end of the floor, the seating area wraps around the corral and expands into a large, open lounge that is also bordered by expansive window areas. Street Sweets sits at the inside corner of this space and anchors the lounge from 7 a.m. until 2 a.m. the next morning.
From a street and traffic view, Street Sweets appears as a contemporary, coffee and bakery bar hub to the entire L-shaped seating area, giving the marketplace a well-lit and inviting atmosphere to potential customers even when the main servery is closed. Its menu of coffee-based drinks, smoothies, high end deserts, ice cream and fresh baked goods appeals to student snacking and “24/7” tastes.
“We wanted the facility to be flexible and adaptable in case our daypart demands might change,” says Keegstra. “If the demand is there, it could become a 24 hour operation some time in the future.
“That same kind of flexibility is built into the stations inside the corral,” he adds. “They're designed so we can force the choices a bit depending on traffic flow at any given time. In periods of high demand, grab-and-go and impulse retail displays take some of the pressure off labor intensive operations. We've also designed the exit lines so they can quickly be staffed up or down for rush periods.”
Taking Meal Customization to the Next Level
Location: University of Southern California
Station: The International Condiment Station located in the dining hall at USC's Parkside International Residential College
Challenge: Open to both meal plan and retail traffic, the Parkside dining facility offers a casual but elegant dining environment with all-you-caretoeat offerings from five major platforms arranged around the perimeter of the seating area. Daily, restaurant style menus offer the international mix of customers there a wide range of offerings in plated four-ounce “tasting size” servings that encourage grazing. The menu ranges from the eclectic to comfort-driven, with food prepared fresh and often customized to match student requests.
USC Executive Chef Mark Baida wanted to give Parkside customers even more customization options that would reflect the international nature of the university's enrollment and developed The International Condiment Station to provide self-serve, finishing touches for even the most eclectic taste.
Execution: The condiment station adjoins an extensive, centrally-located salad bar and offers over 40 freshly-prepared, authentic condiments from around the world. Among them: Korean kimchi; Indian dahl; Thai fish sauce; kamachi; pickled ginger and garlic; curried and pickled vegetable relish; wasabi; Mexican tabatio hot sauce; pickled jalapenos; aioli spreads; a selection of flavored oils and vinegars; and a variety of classic American barbecue and fruit sauces, syrups, ketchup and mustards. Customers can graze among the offerings and match them to virtually any meal part.
“Condiments are the final taste touch to many dishes, just as a garnish is to a final presentation,” says Baida.“I did not like the look of a dining facility with bottles of ketchup and sauce on the tables; plus, we wanted to give our patrons a much wider variety of condiment options. In the end the condiment bar approach was cleaner, required less labor, and allowed us to offer a wider variety of options, many of them freshly prepared.
“Michael Gratz (USC hospitality Services director) and I wanted to create a grazing menu at Parkside, one that would let you sample items from every station or let you go back for seconds or thirds of an item that you really loved. The main stations allow lots of interaction between the chefs and customers, and feature custom-built flat surfaces that hold multiple plates and heat from both the top and the bottom. Customers go directly from these to the condiment station, where they can add the specific finishing touches they want to any one of our offerings.”
Leveraging an Impinger Oven for Variety
Location: Marshall University, Huntington W. VA
Station: Pizza, executed as part of Sodexho's “Ultimate Dining” program.
Challenge: Sodexho Executive Chef for Campus Services Matt Mantini wanted to extend the range of menu items offered from the triple decker impinger oven at the school's pizza station to make it more versatile in multiple dayparts.
Execution: Mantini likes the impinger's ability to give a fresh-prepared image to product and that “they can be put almost anywhere, sometimes even with self-contained hoods.” He started by angling the oven “so the customers see the food as it comes out, arriving just for them.” Many of the menu items he developed are finished off in the oven, but are created from pre-cooked components that are stored for use as needed.
Breakfast pizzas, for example, use cooked scrambled eggs instead of pizza sauce. These are kept refirgerated with topping ingredients until needed. For Eggs Benedict, eggs are cracked into presprayed muffin tins and steamed in advance to give a uniform set egg; to finish, ham slices are laid on an open-faced English muffin in an individual casserole dish, topped with one of the eggs and instant hollendaise sauce and run through the oven to meet demand.“Crusty dogs”— another breakfast offering—are created with pre-cooked scrambled eggs wrapped in rolled raw biscuit dough with a pre-cooked sausage link, then baked off.
At lunch and dinner, the same setup gives a fresh-prepared ambience to many items that at one time resided on classic college steam tables. “Comfort foods like beef stew, tuna noodle casserole and chicken tetrazini are even more popular when they're finished off in the impinger,” says Mantini. These are pre-portioned in 10-oz. round casserole dishes and stored on refrigerator speed racks. Another popular lunch item: “Hot dogs in pizza dough,” says Mantini.“We cut the dough into strips and roll the dogs with ingedients like chili, cheese, onions and sauerkraut.”
Mantini says the key to producing product on a just-in-time basis is to track and analyze traffic counts and product demand in 15-minute segments, then use those numbers to estimate baseline production needs.With a little experience, a station operator can learn to keep throughput well-matched to traffic demand, he says.