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- Food on the run
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When MIT opened its new Stata Center last fall, a prominent feature was the 300-yard long,serpentine Student Street on its first floor.
Born to run
This food-on-the-run mentality affects the youngest of customers, too. As Marcia Smith, director of foodservices for Polk County Schools in Florida, points out, "Grab-and-go has become even more popular than ever now, no matter what the age. I first noticed it happening with the older students, but recently, I'm seeing the influence all the way down to kindergarteners."
"The campus foodservices had to retool five outlets into DASH cafes to keep up with the demand."—Brendan Ryan
She notes several reasons for the trend: "Secondary students like that option because they want to spend more time with their friends; for elementary students, it's just what they're used to doing in their lives now, plus, they love things they can pick up with their hands, so they don't have to use silverware."
Everyday, at all grade levels, Smith offers something under the "grab-and-go" label. "And it's usually the most popular choice each day."
Current favorites, she reports, include prepacked peanut butter-and-jelly or grilled cheese sandwiches with the crusts already removed; wrapped-up and ready-to-go ham and cheese biscuits and chicken patty sandwiches; a "breakfast buddy" (rolled up pancake product on a stick that can be dipped in syrup, "but those in a real hurry don't bother with the syrup"); and even plain, dry cereal.
"For breakfast, lots of students will just take cereal and eat it dry; that way, without the milk poured over, they don't have to worry about eating while walking down the sidewalk."
As customers increasingly demand more truly practical hand-held foods, operators have been forced to modify preparation techniques. At the Penn State Berks Campus Cyber Caf, Manager Kukta no longer offers traditional sandwiches for his grab-and-go, commuter student clientele. For them, it's wraps only. "They're so much easier to eat," he notes.
To minimize mess, he has also cut back on the amount of lettuce in the wraps ("that was the biggest culprit in complaints about falling-out ingredients"), and places what lettuce he does use right in the middle of the wrap. That has largely solved the problem, he says.
At Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital, Kahn says there have been "many debates among the staff and chef" about how to fine-tune grab-and-go wraps. "We eliminated things like rice and beans, that typically fall out and increased the use of vegetable spreads for moistness and flavor. We also use larger chunks of chicken now, and the chef makes use of high heat, quick-searing preparation methods to seal in moisture content of products."
When the DASH grab-and-go concept at Harvard debuted about three years ago, it filled a small but necessary niche for ready made sandwiches. But within a year, the business "exploded," claims Executive Chef for Campus Restaurants Brendan Ryan. The campus foodservices had to retool five outlets into DASH cafes to keep up with the demand. "The second year, sales doubled, and we expect they'll increase possibly another 50 percent this year," he claims.
To accommodate the boom in business and ease production at the central commissary, the facility's executive chef, Andy Allen, had to bring in a high-speed sandwich wrapping machine that packs 40 sandwiches per minute.
"The sandwiches come out in a nice polypropylene package, with pinched ends and a seam on the bottom -- it's an airtight package around the sandwich that's more durable and has a zigzag seal on the end to easily tear open," he says.
In designing the new Stata Center at MIT, Director Berlin purposely kept tables and chairs to a minimum within the various food outlets, since there's increasingly less call for them. Instead, pockets of seating are scattered throughout the building, banquette-style, so that customers can grab a quick respite whenever needed. "That way, it's still 'quasi' on-the-run," he jokes.
Catering to "Street" Traffic
Although limited seating is available at the servery, and more is situated along other parts of the 300 yard-long street, "The space was intentionally designed with distributed seating in order to encourage casual group meetings and socialization," says Rich Berlin, MIT's director of campus dining.
One of several retail properties managed by Sodexho on the campus, all the food served from it is portable in the sense that it will be consumed on the run or is packaged so it can be carried to these areas. High volume outlets include an espresso and pastry bar, a hand-rolled sushi and Asian station, a full deli, a stone oven pizzeria, a traditional hot entrèe line and fully stacked grabandgo coolers and display shelving (see photos, p. 46).
"We designed the menu around a rotating mix of international comfort food," says Berlin."We serve a highly diverse, international community, and the idea is that one person's comfort food is another person's cultural experimentation."
Even though the menu is highly diverse in the course of rotation, the specific offerings on a given day are limited in order to simplify choices and speed up the lines during key high volume periods. Serving and cashier lines are also designed to limit waiting."As short, individual lines face the serving stations, other customers in a hurry can select grab-and-go packaged sandwiches and other items directly from display cases that are behind them and go immediately on to check out," Berlin adds.
"To streamline operations, we encourage the purchase of made-to-order, 'signature' sandwiches that can be assembled to order more quickly. The ingredients are already established and don't have to be individually selected by the customer, although they can do that if they wish to."
Customers move through the space as if driving through a shopping center parking lot, says Berlin."You pull up to the stations you wish to stop at, or move right by to a different station or a register. Even though space is tight, multiple lines of traffic keep moving at their own pace through the serving area."