You already know your facility speaks volumes about your school: To your students, prospective families, staff and visitors. Dining areas are no exception; your dining program can have one of the loudest “voices” when it comes to value.
An updated dining space tells students and families that your leadership cares about their satisfaction and well-being. And even more importantly, that your organization is willing to invest in student experience. A welcoming space with healthy, on-trend menu options can play a big part in recruitment and retention.
An updated dining space says that you value your school’s community and culture; that you walk your talk when it comes to creating lifelong connections and fostering healthy relationships.
It shows your students, families, prospects, teachers and staff that your organization is stable, thriving, and successful and creates confidence in your school’s brand.
Does your dining program need an update?
If it’s time to spruce up your dining facility, it’s not as simple as replacing a few fixtures and slapping a new coat of paint on the cinder block. Updating your dining space is a strategic move that requires thought and planning, and the entire effort should align with your school’s needs and goals.
Here are just a few of the things you should consider as you plan for your school’s dining space upgrade or renovation:
1 . What function(s) does the space perform? How could it be used in the future?
Many schools use their dining space as a multipurpose area for after-school activities, performances, tutoring, meetings, banquets, academic competitions, college fairs and more. Think about the purposes your dining space serves (or could serve), and plan accordingly. The more you demand from your space, the more modular it will need to be in order to easily accommodate multiple functions and activities.
2. What is your level of financial investment?
What are your fundraising capabilities for this project? Will it be part of a capital campaign, grant designation, or other funding stream? How can your renovation partner help you get creative with funding? (For example, we sometimes make an investment in the school to help bring a renovation to life).
3. Do you have the capacity to manage a renovation project?
You have enough on your plate. Even if you tackle the planning for your renovation in-house, you’ll still be dealing with outside contractors to execute the project. How involved can you realistically be in the project management process? Many school leaders find that having a single point of contact and a full-service strategic renovation team is worth its weight in gold when it comes to maximizing your staff’s time and energy.
4. Who will you hire to design, manage, and execute the renovation process? Do they understand your needs and goals?
Whether you have a contractor in mind or are looking for someone to plan and execute your project, make sure they have a thorough understanding of the nuances and needs of a school like yours. Planning, designing, managing and building corporate cafeterias or retail food courts might seem like parallel experience, but the strategies behind those projects are actually quite different from a school dining facility. A cookie-cutter approach will almost certainly leave you with big operational challenges long after construction is finished.
5. What are the hidden costs?
Will you be responsible for contractors’ fees, specific labor, special materials, or design services? What about the time you and your staff will spend choosing, coordinating, and managing those services? Most schools find it’s more cost effective to work with a partner who incorporates all renovation services under one fee, including design and contractors’ fees.
6. What aesthetic are you going for?
Think about your student population and how they’ll spend their time in your space. Should it be sleek and minimalist? Casual and friendly? Bright and energetic? No idea? Make sure your renovation partner can give you sound design advice that integrates into your school’s aesthetic and supports the moods and activities you’d like your students to experience in your space.
7. Will you be partnering with outside brands?
While most K-12 schools don’t need to think about partnerships, it’s a big deal for colleges and universities. If brand partnerships (think Chick-fil-A, Starbucks, etc.) are a part of your program, what are the space requirements for those partners? What are the brand standards when it comes to build-out, design, and functionality? Make sure your renovation partner understands what’s required to accommodate brand partners now and in the future. And if you’re interested in bringing brands on board, can your renovation partner help you make those connections?
8. What are your growth goals?
What will your student population look like in 3 years, 5 years, or 10 years? Make sure your renovation partner understands that food service is an active part of your strategic plan, so they can design with the future in mind. (If food service is *not* a clear and active part of your current strategic plan, it absolutely should be. We can help with that).
9. What do your traffic patterns and staffing look like throughout the day?
How many students are you serving, and how many meals are you selling each day? How often does the service need to be reset, and how much time between meals (and on-hand staff) do you have to make that happen? Would you need to adjust staffing or lunch hours to accommodate a new design, or could a new plan make your serving and re-setting more efficient? Make sure your renovation partner considers changeovers, traffic, and the time it takes for staff to set, serve, and clean up for each daypart.
10. How many dining staff do you have in your program? What are their roles?
Make sure your dining space renovation considers your current staff, growth strategies, and HR capacity. If you plan on growing your program and adding another chef manager in the next two years, make sure your space can accommodate that growth. If you’re hoping to reduce the size of your team for efficiency’s sake, how can you design a flow that requires fewer people serving or cleaning up? Your renovation partner should be able to help you plan for efficient staffing now and in the future.
Answering these questions should give you a clearer idea of what you need from your dining renovation, and help you prepare to select a renovation partner that can meet those needs.
Remember: the most important piece of the puzzle is to truly understand your goals around your renovation—what do you want to accomplish, and why? When you start with a clear goal in mind, the pieces tend to fall into place with more clarity and purpose. Your dining renovation partner should be putting your goals first, too. (Spoiler alert: that’s what we’re all about).
Considering a dining space renovation in your private K-12 school or university?