Older dining halls require dining station creativity to make the best use of unusual floor space.
One of the great challenges facing many foodservice directors is the need to take legacy space in buildings designed for other purposes or in other eras, and employ that space to more effectively meet contemporary foodservice needs.
Northeastern is no exception. While the new construction of its International Village facility last year meant the building design could be matched to the expansive servery choices and expectations of today's customers, its older Stetson East and Stetson West facilities were built in the 1960s, when space was geared to entirely different service needs.
While both of the older halls have been modernized over the years, space constraints created by load-bearing walls and other building features remain. Two of the creative ways dining services has dealt with such constraints are illustrated by its Stir It Up station and Xhibition Kitchen facilities.
Stir Fry Choices in Stetson West is designed to offer customized meals in very high volume. It's located in an alcove that is partially blocked by load-bearing walls and is largely out of view. That hasn't affected its popularity — students go there to select vegetables and sauces, putting them in bowls and soufflé cups, and picking a protein of choice when they submit the order to a chef. They are given a numbered tag for the order and most then go out into the main servery where they collect additional items for the meal or enjoy an appetizer (which helps eliminate the long queues typical of college stir fry stations in high volume periods).
As each stir fry is finished, the chef sets it in the pickup area and activates its number on the large light boards in the main hall.
The Xhibition Kitchen is also located in Stetson West. “XK,” as it is often called, was once a residential mail room. As residential enrollment at NEU increased, it was modified to become part of the dining hall in a 2004 renovation.
It serves as a special event showcase, with a display kitchen and extensive video camera facilities that are used twice a week during lunch for special demos by visiting cookbook authors (recent events have featured Jacques Pepin, Barbara Lynch, Martin Yan, Emily Frankin, and XK was featured on the Food Network in a June Throwdown with Bobby Flay and the Brass Sisters).
Demos are displayed on three large screens and also can be broadcast to nine other screens in the main dining room. The rest of the time XK can be used for overflow seating, special “monotony breakers” like the customized dessert station shown here, or cordoned off for private student events.
“It is equal parts video technology and cooking equipment,” says Timmons. “This space, like Stir It Up, was somewhat cut off from the rest of the dining area. We wanted to make creative use of them so that they became features of the Stetson dining experience, rather than problems.”