Building Blueprints (Facilities in Focus)

Food Service Design: Evolution, Innovation and Interaction.

School food service areaThe cafeteria is the water cooler of the modern school — it’s a gathering place for students to talk, and of course, eat. Despite the importance of this space and the activities that happen there, the design of school dining areas and accompanying kitchens has been overlooked for far too long. As school design moves toward creating more engaging and professional spaces, cafeterias and kitchens are rightfully following suit. Designers not only need to look closer at the overall design, function and operating hours of the cafeteria, but they also need to consider a variety of uses, spaces, seating options, configurations and food choices, thus elevating a space that was once used just for eating.

Not Just For Lunch

The cafeteria is where students can roam and explore with the freedom that they don’t have in a classroom. What was once just a dining hall can be more useful and collaborative than in the past. At the start of the school day, students often arrive and wait in the cafeteria until classes start. In some schools, breakfast is also served daily. Knowing what activities are going to take place every day in the cafeteria can drive design elements such as outside access, restroom proximity and seating options for study or eating.

School cafeteria eating areaOnce lunchtime does arrive, it can stretch over several hours. Many administrators have realized that including programmed activities while the students are together can greatly alleviate interruptions to class time. For instance, a stage in the cafeteria can facilitate announcements, as well as student performances. Some schools have an “open mic” time, in which pre-approved songs, poems, readings and other activities are performed during lunch. Of course, students socialize while eating, so acoustical treatments of the ceiling and walls can minimize the decibel levels in the room. If school administrators know that everyone is going to be talking in the cafeteria, they should make sure to design a space that accommodates high sound volumes.

A Day in the Life

The cafeteria is no longer just a cafeteria. Flexible learning spaces for collaborative study and project-based learning can also serve as alternate dining locations. These can overlap with a student union, perhaps replacing the traditional media center and cafeteria entirely. There are no rules stating that all eating must take place inside the dining hall, as long as trash and spills are carefully considered in the design of alternate spaces where students are allowed to take food. This can mean using more cleanable, anti-microbial surfaces, as well as plenty of visible trashcans that get emptied regularly. The incorporation of charging stations, campus-wide Wi-Fi, portable projectors and screens increase flexibility and student empowerment allowing them to make the most of their environment.

Kitchen classroomAt the end of the day, the dining hall again can become a hub for students. After-school programs, tutoring, clubs and extra-curricular activities all often happen in the dining area. Knowing that, for example, the drill team will be rehearsing while other students are waiting for rides homes after-school creates the need for a flexible space that can accommodate multiple uses at the same time. Movable furniture, dividers or partitioned space allow for separation when needed.

When a dining room doubles as an auditorium, special consideration for layout, equipment and acoustics are required. The size of the room should accommodate the expected number of audience members. The shaping of the ceiling and walls can be angled to minimize reverberations, with sound absorption most critical on the rear wall. Hybrid flooring products in lieu of VCT can dampen sound while still allowing ease of cleaning. Working with an AV consultant on a recommended layout, stage lighting, rigging and sound system will also help to accommodate the space for the types of performances anticipated. In general, thinking of this space as an auditorium first will provide proper design for both performance and dining functions.

Kitchens as Classrooms

school cafeterriaAs districts boost the number of culinary programs to create career-ready students, kitchens are given further opportunities to evolve. For culinary career programs, design needs can be summed up in one word: flexibility. Timothy “Chef” Kelly, the head of culinary education for Fort Worth Independent School District (ISD), says a culinary space should be like a chameleon, as change is a normal part of daily instruction. Kelly’s input was integral to the design of the district’s new North Side High School culinary arts facility. With innovation in industry tools and the constantly changing needs of students, facilities must be adaptable to new technologies and spatial arrangements.

Portable equipment, power, and mobile teaching platforms in culinary classrooms and production kitchens accommodate a variety of instructional arrangements. North Side High School in Fort Worth ISD, designed by Corgan and Foodservice Design Professionals, provides students with much of the same state-of-the-art equipment used in today’s five-star restaurants. Additionally, placing all of this equipment on wheels accommodates the diversity of school activities. Retractable, ceilinghung power cords support the evolving environment by allowing students to plug in anywhere. A camera tracks instructors throughout the kitchen to broadcast demonstrations onto large monitors scattered across the room, providing close viewing for all students from their workstations. Accessories such as low-volume hoods and quiet surface flooring complete the learning-friendly kitchen.

Design professionals and school administrators have many tools at their disposal to create dynamic spaces throughout a school. Incorporating these concepts in the dining space and even the kitchen contribute to a student focused, flexible and collaborative facility.

This article originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Authors

Jason Mellard, AIA, LEED AP BD+C is an associate at Corgan in Dallas, Texas. Corgan listens to their clients and transforms their insights into architecture that inspires, informs and innovates. Jason Mellard may be contacted at jason.mellard@corgan.com.

Haley Walton is an architectural intern with Corgan.

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