Working with Culinary Institute of America-trained chefs to develop menus, the Indiana University (IU) culinary staff give customers a new dining experience at nine micro-restaurants in a unique campus environment that spans three floors of a LEED Silver-certified building.
Original story: Facility Design Project of the Month, April 2014: The Restaurants at Woodland, Indiana University–Bloomington.
Indiana University built a new residence hall and a new apartment complex on the campus's northeast neighborhood, which is home to Forest Quad. New housing options also increased the need for additional foodservice and 700 total seats in the renovated dining facility. There was a critical need to renovate the dining halls and cafés in the southeast neighborhood of campus to address the current lifestyle of students. The goal was to redefine campus dining options to create an atmosphere that would invite students to meet and linger over coffee, pizza or more leisurely meals. The final product is a dynamic dining venue featuring seven distinct options with two additional options for salads and desserts. The larger of two distinct sections contains micro-restaurants and is open during peak hours. The other contains a café, breakfast and deli venue open during less busy hours and late night. The operation has exceeded expectations.
This project is a dining center at its core but also had to function as a circulation path for students living in the tower who travel to campus. The building also offers an academic advising center and multimedia library on the second floor. The Restaurants at Woodland had to achieve usage on multiple levels and at multiple times — from morning to late at night. Therefore, the loading dock and service functions tuck into the far north side while the center of the space opens to student traffic and up to academic functions on the second floor. Three restaurants called Woodland West operate from 7 a.m. to midnight; six restaurants called Woodland East open at 11 a.m. and will eventually stay open to 2 a.m.
Each micro-restaurant is distinct in its menu, design and colors.
The primary design challenge was to evolve an existing building that served back-of-house functions into a foodservice showcase. Columns from the existing building dotted the floor plan, making the initial layout quite challenging. The columns became defining elements and walls of the individual restaurants. Because each restaurant has a separate identity, the columns became a design feature that helped define the individuality of each restaurant. The former loading dock was replaced by a tower and a new faÇade that turned the back of the house into an inviting venue for the whole neighborhood.
Products arrive on the dock, and those that need to be processed in the kitchen are taken to storage areas adjacent to both the kitchen and the dock. Staff move items that do not need this processing into the appropriate restaurant storage area so they are available for production. Items that are not needed on a daily basis sit in lower-level storage areas.
The basement holds cooler compressors for nearly all walk-ins. Water-cooled condensing units operate on a building loop. For efficiency, energy-saving hoods and equipment, LED lighting and natural light support the operation. Each micro-restaurant contains the food, equipment and supplies to provide service during a meal period. Staff interact with customers, and the efficient design of each station reduces the number of steps they need to take during the worktime. Also, chefs and production staff can easily monitor the amount of foods they prepare and maintain fresh production throughout service, which improves quality and reduces food waste.
The dishroom's location near the dining, servery and kitchen areas allows customers to easily drop off dirty dishes, and staff can easily move dishes and equipment to the dishroom. A pathway allows staff to take food and supplies from the kitchen to the café and dessert area without going through customer circulation spaces.
FE&S: Now that you've had time to live with the new facility, what are three accomplishments that make you proud?
SF: It's difficult to only mention three, but here goes. We set a new standard for providing fresh food and personal service to our students and other guests. Staff feel incredibly proud of their department and this new facility. And, the ambiance at The Restaurants at Woodland has been embraced by our students, faculty and staff. Friends and study groups use the dining rooms for meetings, study sessions, and so forth. I haven't seen this for several years!
FE&S: Is the facility meeting your expectations for traffic, customer acceptance and financial return?
SF: Our predictions were that Woodland would have 5,000 or 6,000 customers each day. The average is 5,500 (slightly less on weekends). Sales records show the bottom line to be positive, and total sales are growing. Traffic in The Round (coffee/pastries) has exceeded expectations, and we'll have to add a second espresso machine soon.
FE&S: What advice would you give to design teams pursuing adventurous design goals?
SF: Research other schools, restaurants and other operations to evaluate successes and best practices. Work closely with manufacturer representatives and order equipment that truly fits the traffic expected. And plan carefully and realize there may be construction delays!