Top tips on refurbishing dining rooms

18 October 2004 by
Top tips on refurbishing dining rooms

From tariff to daily specials and forthcoming theme days, good signage to communicate your offer is essential. Stick to a particular theme. Do not use a multitude of brand promotions with stickers all over the place.

High ceiling? The use of hanging banners, or sails suspended from a high ceiling can be extremely attractive and serve as a noise buffer.

Bins and waste return points A table with two bowls and a "shlops" bin… sorry, that is just not on in this day and age. Use tall tray return units on casters or McDonald's-style bins. Loss of cutlery, I hear you say. Well, magnetic-lined bins have been on the market for years.

Restaurant furniture Try to introduce dividers, planters and a combination of seating. Fast-food multi-seat units are excellent for controlling the flow of the restaurant. Students can't easily move these and pile them up. Combine them with a combination of bistro tables and chairs, poseur tables and high stools and benches along hard wall surfaces.

Servery Access Sticking with a single queue along a straight line of service points, with a couple of tills at the end is, well, slow. Some schools allow just 35 minutes for lunch with potentially 600 students to feed! Signage pointing customers to separate service points is a start. Grab ‘n' go stations are now the norm. Fast food and "meal of the day" and separate salad stations not only allow for multiple access, but also create an attractive food court.

Speed of service Enough till stations, customer flow arrangements and, in schools, plenty of supervision is the key. Talk to your clients if you feel you need more help with supervision. Sixth-formers on a rota have proved to be very effective in a supervisory role.

Presentation The best presentation tool is the food itself. Garnish and creative food display will always win outright. So consider additional training for chefs on the art of food display. If your counters are mainly bain-maries, get yourself some stainless steel covers or plates and introduce earthenware dishes.

Equipment Service points can either be stand-alone hot, cold and ambient stations, or shop-fitted counters with built-in units. These are more stylish, and more expensive. Study your menu, number of customers and level of robustness before purchasing counters. Access for disabled users is also an essential consideration. One of Tenet's jobs resulted in the design, planning and commissioning of a new food court servery and separate caf‚/deli bar. The finished product was outstanding and below budget. But after a week of service the client complained that the tray slide could not stand the weight of the students climbing on it! Since then all Tenet's counter tray slides have come with wrought-iron supports!

General new design Start with what you'll be cooking today, tomorrow and in five years' time. Will you be doing functions? Will your customer numbers be changing? How often do you get deliveries? Space can be saved with super combi-ovens in the kitchens, but insist on plenty of storage and workspace. Always follow a HACCP system, or draft one up as part of the feasibility study. Make use of the under-counters for as much of the servery system as possible: ambient shelving, under-counter hot cupboards and cold holding. If you are buying a bespoke counter system with multi-service points, remember it should have a robust chassis, and ask about grades of stainless steel. If it's too thin it will scratch easily. And most importantly, will the tray slide be used as a springboard for students?

Decoration Keep it simple and timeless. For the past four years Tenet has, by and large, stuck with sunshine yellow, sky blue, beach and chrome finished decor and furniture schemes. Match your decor concepts with your other materials. A hotel will sometimes choose its crockery before its paint finish… good planning. A college site manager almost strangled me once when the yellow paint reference got mixed up and the finished article was a huge room that looked like the setting for a cartoon. We issued free sunglasses!

A school where the food itself captures the limelight Everson Hewett has operated the catering contract for Ravensbourne College in Kent since June 2003. Tenet Food Services managed the contract review and was seeking, on behalf of the college, a service partner who applied a commercial and flexible approach to the development of the catering offer. The refurbishment project and creative marketing strategy that supported the opening were crucial to Everson Hewett's success with the college and its student population.

A retail shop area was created alongside the existing refectory and a premium coffee unit installed in the student bar. "The shop has been phenomenally successful, taking more than £500 each day with no negative effect being felt in the refectory," says Colin Whitton, Everson Hewett's area manager. In the refectory, sales have trebled following the refurbishment to £245,000 in the last academic year.

The shop installation was simply a case of converting one end of the main servery, installing a partition and kitting it out with multi-deck units and a hatch into the main servery, which provides the fast-food element of the operation. Students can grab ‘n' go, paying at the single till point. This also proved highly efficient as only one person is needed to operate the till.

More than 35% of all purchases in the refectory are freshly prepared bistro meals such as pan-fried free-range chicken on Parmesan risotto or salmon fish cakes on a dressed rocket salad. These are tastefully presented on the main servery, which is a shop-fitted unit with a black granite effect worktop throughout.

Hot, cold and ambient stations have been "cut" into the unit. It also has ample space for counter-top units such as a jacket potato machine and till points. Menu display is very basic but effective, sighted alongside the display units or sat on the over-counter gantries. But the food itself is the marketing.

Ravensbourne College represents a carefully thought through makeover, as opposed to a very expensive new-build project.

Keys to success - Introduction of espresso machine and small deli counter to student bar

  • Sectioning of main servery into a shop, with fast-food hatch
  • Moving old servery counters to first-floor staff restaurant
  • Employment of a great chef!

A contractor attacking the old style with help from a designer Coquet High School, in Northumberland, is set on the outskirts of the village of Amble, a former mining and fishing port, which now has a thriving yachting marina.

When head teacher Paul Allen decided to look at alternatives to the council's catering services, one of his principle requirements was for a company that would work in partnership to the benefit of the school and the wider community. Tenet was contracted to help with the tender process.

Two years into its contract, local caterer Creative Management Services (CMS) has formed a highly successful partnership approach to management and provision of the catering services.

CMS introduced a new design concept, with the assistance of Kent-based Into Design, to the food hall, moving away from the traditional straight-line counter approach, to a more user-friendly environment, encouraging the students to stay on site during break and lunchtime.

There's now a wider set menu choice, a self-help salad bar, deli counter and a "traffic light" healthy eating campaign. Turnover is high (£136,000 last year) for a school with only 600 pupils.

CMS also introduced a cashless system to the school, alleviating the problem of cash handling, administration and security.

Working closely with the school council (student representative forum), CMS holds regular meetings to ensure that they have access to the management team and can suggest improvements.

Keys to success - Scrapping of the old style counters and introduction of key serving stations

  • Introduction of a cashless system to speed the queues and tighten controls
  • Good communications, an excellent relationship with the head and an open forum relationship with stakeholders

A "whole school" approach to innovative refurbishment Outwood Grange School, in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, is the fourth-largest secondary school in the country.

The school motto is "Students First". Working in partnership with the school management and the students, the school's caterer, Education Contract Services (ECS), has been tremendously successful in creating an environment that is valued by the students. Over the past three years this school has had three separate phases of investment into the catering facility, jointly funded through the school, ECS and the Local Education Authority.

The facility provides contemporary dining areas with different food offers for students, sixth-formers, and staff. The facility and lunchtime experience has been transformed and take-up and income have improved year on year, with turnover last year reaching £347,000.

ECS worked with the sixth-form students through their design and technology curriculum modules to undertake research into pupils' style preferences, food choices and the venues where they spend their leisure time. The students actively participated in the design concepts, chose materials, and worked within a specified budget with ECS and the school bursar.

Students looked at the nearby high-street outlets and used the ideas they picked up in the design of the school's restaurant and the kind of furniture purchased.

ECS has proved a valid point that you don't need a well-funded marketing department in your company, just a working relationship with your client and an ability to translate the ideas of your customers into something quite special. The image at Outwood Grange is theirs and theirs only - a unique outlet designed by the customers.

Keys to success - Significant increase in sales, year on year

  • Creation of a high-street outlet
  • Customer satisfaction levels very high compared with the normal customer attitudes to school meals
  • Stylish design and service style of salad bar that should be emulated by those who believe kids don't buy salads.
  • A restaurant "owned" by the customers
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