Retail sales were up last month but restaurants saw a sales decline. Hiring foodservice employees is getting tougher. McDonald’s plans to franchise its China operation and now wants to do the same for Japan. Applebee’s and IHOP are planning major overseas expansion.
Supported by a bakery and central commissary, this market-style dining concept features authentically themed micro-restaurants that contribute to the community-oriented environment created in this unique center.
Situated at the base of the Flatirons rock formations, the Center for Community (C4C) opened it doors at the University of Colorado at Boulder at the beginning of the 2010 fall semester. A 960-seat marketplace-style dining facility anchors the $84.4 million facility, which spans 323,000 gross square feet and includes 400 parking spaces. C4C's vast foodservice operation features 10 themed, specialty-dining micro-restaurants, a support kitchen and outdoor seating for 200 people. Built to attract increasingly diverse and sophisticated customers, this 53,000-square-foot dining commons serves approximately 5,400 meals per day or nearly 1.1 million meals per year (projected).
"This dining center brings a new cultural dining experience to the Colorado University at Boulder campus and helps build a strong sense of community because this is something everyone can share and learn from," says Amy Beckstrom, director of dining services. "We like to say that our new motto is 'redefining dining.' With the addition of kosher and halal foods, as well as an increased focus on vegan, vegetarian and food for those with allergies, our customers know they can dine in a place where they have options. This has brought a whole new customer base to our dining center."
"The micro-restaurant concept breaks the paradigm of the more than decade-old marketplace concept," says the project's foodservice and hospitality design consultant, James Sukenik of Bakergroup Foodservice and Hospitality Consultants. "There are great benefits to developing unique identities for each food concept, where each micro-restaurant has its own aesthetic menu and identity. The micro-restaurant approach provides the best combination of variety and experience for students. In the distant future, when a particular micro-restaurant isn't performing or has lost its appeal, the university can easily limit its renovation needs to a single micro-restaurant and not be compelled to reinvent or renovate the entire facility."
Sukenik credits associate, Mona Milius, of Bakergroup Foodservice and Hospitality Consultants, for creating micro-restaurants that were conceived to be as authentic as possible. "The design and culinary team had a great time going through the research necessary to make certain they understood both the challenges and also the opportunities they were facing with authentic concepts," he says. "Particular attention was paid to artfully compressing more expansive restaurant concepts into smaller footprints than would typically be required for a freestanding restaurant.
Other aspects of the foodservice operation include: WeatherTech Café, a late-night operation that stays open until 2 a.m., is expected to bring in $550,000 this year; a retail bakery projected to generate $150,000; and a 2,000-square-foot grab-and-go meal plan venue.
Also included in the C4C are a commissary that contains cook-chill and other equipment, and 12 student support offices. Compared to other university buildings of a similar size, the C4C will be 20 percent to 25 percent more energy and water efficient.
"By consolidating production to one site, instead of operating and maintaining multiple facilities, the campus is able to control production costs and provide more venues designed to support the needs of a diverse campus population," says Phil Simpson, assistant director of CU at Boulder's facilities planning office.
Each day one-third of the campus population passes through and around this new facility, which is strategically located on a busy thoroughfare between the university's residential and academic neighborhoods, explain Jim Childress, partner at Centerbrook Architects in Essex, Conn., and Curtis Cox, project manager, Davis Partnership Architects in Denver, Colo. "The new Center for Community was designed to live up to its name by being a welcoming, intimate, friendly 'home away from home' for students on a diverse campus of more than 30,000 people," Cox says.
The dining center was an instant hit with the campus population, drawing an average of 6,400 customers per day. "When we first opened we were surprised at the participation, and that first day will be memorable forever," Beckstrom says. "Now it's back to what we expected, at about 5,400 daily. We can handle about 1,000 more and continue to bring in outside groups from elementary schools, retirement communities and the chamber of commerce."
Customer satisfaction scores are soaring and, as Beckstrom says, "are even higher than we were hoping to accomplish. Having a sense of community is important to everyone on campus, and especially freshmen and sophomores who need a convenient location where they can meet with friends and like-minded individuals."
The satisfaction is due to a combination of factors, from the interior design to the emphasis placed on food diversity and quality.
The "Wow" Factor
A "wow wall" greets customers as they enter the dining facility. Developed under the direction of Janice Torkildsen, manager of dining marketing and customer experience, the wall contains 16 individual video screens that come together to create one giant horizontal unit that displays videos and still pictures combined with words to convey educational messages and university-related news. The name "wow wall" was first used to convey a vision of the desired experience for people entering the facility, but it stuck when staff realized that the first thing customers say when they see it is "Wow!"
Menu boarding and signage in the entrance area direct customers to the many micro-restaurants. "We worked to create an experience and a destination marketplace," Beckstrom says.
"Early in the process we focused on not simply creating concepts but also the need to comfortably accommodate large groups of customers arriving simultaneously," Sukenik says. "We provided a lot of space for circulation in a manner that doesn't encumber those moving within the spaces, which is the magic of this approach. We created pathways, or 'streets,' that vary in width depending on what is occurring on that thoroughfare. Venues that were identified as busy, such as the Persian concept, are located on a main street. Micro-restaurants that represent scaled solutions or smaller elements are located on side streets."
When entering the dining facility, customers can see some of the micro-restaurants but not the entire dining environment. They must walk into the interior space to see each individual venue. Each dining destination also contains its own electronic menu board and graphic elements.
"Most of the stations are on a two-week menu cycle," says Kerry Paterson, executive chef. "The menu is in continuous development. What's so great is that, as time goes on, students learn that they can be creative, and mix and match foods from various stations."
"We're supporting various dietary needs and preferences and make sure we have labeling for allergens, kosher and halal foods," Beckstrom adds.
All stations have their own menus but are self-contained with refrigeration so food can be stored here for an entire meal period. "This way food stays fresh all day for preparation," says Juergen Friese, coordinator for facilities and equipment.
A marketplace has typically been a service approach that often is shy about supporting the staff with enough equipment at each venue, Sukenik adds. "This facility raises the standard of staff and customer convenience with storage that allows these venues to be self-contained during peak periods."
The open concept challenged chefs because they had to elevate their skills in order to provide theater-like production. "We have fantastic venues and have to match the culinarians' performances so the two merge appropriately and make a positive impact," Beckstrom says.
All the micro-restaurants in the dining center feature a variety of authentic food and décor. They are equipped with ample refrigeration, counter space and hot and cold wells to keep food fresh throughout each meal period.
Below is a brief overview of each of the 10 micro-restaurants that make C4C so unique and the foodservice equipment used to prepare their individual menus.
C4C also features other key foodservice stations:
A Central Location for Dishwashing
Positioning the dish drop-off and dishroom centrally in the facility provides another element of efficiency. "We were fortunate to be working with a great design team that allowed us to control the location of all of the foodservice components," Sukenik says.
Customers travel directly to the dish-drop on pathways connecting the five distinct dining areas. The customer dish-drop is located along one edge of the marketplace "square," the four-story atrium in the center of the marketplace.
A large accumulator moves dishes from the customer drop-off point to the dishwashing area. "The accumulator creates reductions in labor and energy by accumulating dishes at the beginning and end of the meal-period rush," Sukenik says. "Had we used a traditional conveyor, those dishes would have needed to be scraped immediately to keep up with demand. In the C4C setup, at the beginning and end of the meal periods, the dish machine can be shut down, while the accumulator continues to provide a place for customers to drop off their dishes."
"The very long tray accumulator that moves to the back of the house has a full drop-in ceiling for sound control, so there's no noise pollution coming from this area into the dining rooms," Friese says.
The dish-drop is accessed on two sides—in little niche spaces with low-level lighting at the customer dish-drop—to avoid an institutional appearance. Staff-side lighting is much brighter. Other notable benefits of this dishwashing location, Sukenik says, are its connection to the kitchen (for pots and pans) and its proximity to the pulper (located directly below). "In addition, staff working in the dishwashing area have amazing window views of the Flatirons, which are possibly the best in the facility," he adds.
All of the dishroom scraping waste goes to a pulper, where it is pumped to a water extractor located at the lower-level dock. Once the water has been extracted and efficiently recirculated back to the dishroom, the waste — now reduced to less than 15 percent of its original volume — is automatically deposited in a trash bin located outside of the building. "This design eliminates the need to move scraping waste from the dishroom, reduces its volume and recirculates the water. An efficient, steam-heated dish machine completes the plan," Sukenik says.
The dish machine tanks were designed to be six inches higher than standard, so full-size sheet pans can be cleaned in the dish machine, thereby reducing the amount of water and labor required for cleaning.
Flexibility Leads to Efficiency
In order to maximize efficiency, some stations are closed during off-peak periods. For example, breakfast is available from 7 a.m. until 10:30 a.m. at such stations as the salad bar, which presents fresh fruits, yogurt and jellies; and a cereal area with dispensers, bagel slicers and toasters. The Black Coats station, which is very popular, serves omelets to order. The dessert station serves freshly baked breakfast pastries.
At 11 a.m. all stations are open; from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m. six stations are open. All stations are again open from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. This flexibility allows staffing to be reduced during off-peak periods by 25 percent to 30 percent for that three-hour time span.
"Juergen and Kerry gave a very thorough review of the kitchen and equipment during the design process and were determined to get what they needed," Beckstrom says. "Of course, there are always a few regrets, but overall the operation works very, very well."
Friese and Paterson's wish list for the future includes more hot/cold wells in order to provide more menu versatility. They would also like to have a larger area for kosher food preparation.
C4C continues to attract customers who are delighted with the options and ambiance. The decor, food selections and equipment bring authenticity to the micro-restaurants. The staff's ability to adapt these restaurants to the changing tastes of their customers both supports and contributes to building community.
Anchored by a street-market-style dining hall, the Center for Community opened in the fall of 2010. The center also houses a bakery and commissary with a cook-chill operation, and 12 student support offices. The $84.4 million facility includes 323,000 gross square feet and more than 400 parking spaces. It was financed through bonds and will be repaid through auxiliary revenue and private donations. Neither tax dollars or tuition were used for C4C construction, nor was there a net increase in room and board rates because the student services offices in residence halls were converted back to housing for students. The foodservice includes the main dining area, featuring 10 specialty-theme food stations; CU on the Run, a grab-and-go café; a retail bakery; and a late-night destination, the WeatherTech Café, open until 2 a.m. The dining hall serves an average of 5,400 meals per day and more than 1.1 million per year (projected). The operation can easily accommodate 1,000 more customers each day. The operation (except the retail venues) is an all-you-care-to-eat plan. The facility provides 960 indoor seats and 200 outdoor seats. The dining center's operating hours are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. from Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Staffing includes six managers, 80 FTEs and up to 200 students. "New" foodservice revenue as a result of this dining center has increased 128 percent. The equipment cost was $6 million.