Food Management has announced the winners of its 2014 “Best Concepts” awards competition. The annual program recognizes exceptional achievement and innovation in key areas of noncommercial foodservice, as judged by the FM editorial staff. Categories range from initiatives in new and renovated foodservice facility design to menu innovation, wellness, special event planning and convenience retailing. The awards will be featured in a special section of the August issue of Food Management and will be presented at the Penton Restaurant Group’s annual MUFSO conference held Oct. 5-7 in Dallas. 

Restaurant Associates took the top “Best of Show” honor this year for its numerous concepts that could have won in several of the individual categories. Here are descriptions of the 10 winners:

Best of Show
Restaurant Associates

Restaurant Associates is that rarest of companies, one that is both a venerable institution and an ongoing trendsetter. RA’s history is replete with accomplishments, from its days as a restaurant operator that helped put New York City on the culinary map with venues like Four Seasons and La Fonda del Sol, to its pioneering forays into museums, performing arts centers and high-end corporate dining. Today, RA continues to set a torrid innovative pace with cutting-edge menus, station concepts and customer service offerings to meet the expectations of some of the most demanding clients and customers in the business. 

Best Customer Service Concept
Cashierless Payment/Ordering System
Compass Group @ Microsoft

The 100% cashierless/cashless ordering and payment system implemented at half a dozen cafes on the Microsoft campus in Redmond, WA, accomplishes a number of customer service goals: It is highly convenient, it reduces crowding and wait times, it seamlessly accommodates the kind of customized and made-to-order menu selections customers prefer, and it offers an appealingly high tech one-stop-shop solution for those ultra-tech-savvy diners. 

Best Renovation
Hampshire Dining Commons
University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Following on the heels of the renovated Berkshire Dining Commons, which won a Best Concept Award in 2007, is Hampshire, another jewel in the crown that is campus dining at UMass. The $15.5-million renovation of the 46,000-sq.ft. space produced not only a treat for the eyes and senses, but one that accords with campus goals on sustainability. It features a dozen station concepts that emphasize serving minimally processed foods and more plant-based items at peak season, less red meat, more sustainable seafood and healthier oils, fats and beverages.

Best New Facility
Bruin Plate
University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA)

Bruin Plate is the second cutting edge dining hall opened at UCLA in the past three years, following the all-Asian FEAST at Reiber, which won a Best Concept Award in 2012. The 900-seat residential restaurant sports seven exhibition and self-serve food stations that collectively serve a menu focused on fresh, wholesome and nutritionally balanced options, while following best practices in foodservice. The venue design incorporates floor-to-ceiling windows with panoramic views of the campus, a "California Fresh" ambiance with sustainable materials and California-themed art and plants and high-tech touches like digital menu screens, a state-of-the-art sound system and low-energy programmable lighting. 

Best Wellness Concept
Smart Choice Smart U
University of California at San Francisco Medical Center

Smart Choice Smart U innovatively melds a number of technology platforms to provide customers with a highly convenient, easy-to-use wellness aid that encourages participation. By inputting its café recipes into the MyFitnessPal mobile application that tracks food intake and letting customers log their choices through a simple smartphone picture of the bar code, the program makes choosing healthy options easier. But then it goes a step further by integrating the program with the Fitbit activity monitor so customers can track both food intake and caloric expenditure on a single platform.