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Construction Trends in University Dining Hall Facilities

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Options are the name of the game in dining – consumers want to choose where, what and when they eat, and campus dining is no different. Simply providing a cafeteria-style meal isn’t enough anymore. Students want flexibility and control in their meal choices and environments.

Like consumers, students  are placing priority on fresh and healthy food choices. In order to meet this need, campuses are moving away from conventional cafeteria-style dining halls. Diverse populations of students are looking for globally inspired cuisine and options covering everything from vegetarian to gluten-free diets. The result is an open array of food islands, grab-and-go cases, and prepared-to-order options. Facility planners, engineering teams, architects and construction management firms have their work cut out for them to create inspired, sustainable dining experiences to satisfy the high expectations of the student population.

Along with the new serving style comes the idea of a less rigid seating area structure within the dining halls. Ample and open floor plans aim to create a welcoming space, promoting interaction among students and faculty, while providing a multi-use venue. For example, in the new dining facility coming to the Old Dominion University (ODU) campus, two exterior terraces shaded by “sail” inspired sun shades give students the ability to not only dine, but simply socialize or study outside.

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Making the change

The new ODU dining facility will become the epicenter of student activity in the coming school year, serving not only as a dining facility, but also as a temporary student center. It will take into account the latest campus dining trends, including flexible meal-time hours, inviting floor plans, and a range of culinary options.

The 44,000-square-foot, two-story dining hall can serve 550 students indoors and 225 out, and will take into account the trends that have become so critical in this new health- and time-conscious culture. The $19.8 million facility will be LEED-Gold certified, keeping a close eye on energy use, environmental quality and materials.

There will be an array of culinary stylings to pick from, many named after the countries of the food’s origin, including:

  • Asia (noodles, stir fry, and a sushi conveyor belt);
  • American Bounty (burgers, steaks, sandwiches, and a cold preparation and butcher room);
  • Bakery (bagels, donuts, baked goods, breads, and a full coffee stand will highlight this area’s offerings);
  • Italy (freshly baked pizza and a variety of noodles and other Italian inspired meals, with doughs and noodles made in-house by food service staff);
  • Mexico (typical Mexican-inspired cuisine, with tortillas and salsas made fresh daily by chef and staff); and
  • Pantry and Salad Bar (varieties of soups, salads, and pre-made meals for students and faculty.

In addition to providing a wide array of culinary options, students and faculty members with food allergies will have access to lockable food storage coolers that store meals to accommodate their dietary restrictions.

When it comes to campus dining, times have certainly changed. Yet they also must: University leaders have recognized that in order to attract and retain students and compete, they must invest in new facilities that promote a healthy living and learning experience. Students and their families demand the high-quality environments, and higher education institutions are heeding the call by upgrading existing facilities and building with the future in mind.

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