Clarion Group Offers New Needs-Based College Dining Consultations

Colleges and companies can make expensive mistakes when they’re planning a new dining facility or renovating an existing one if they haven’t first planned carefully for the operation and services they want, says Tom Mac Dermott, FCSI, president of Clarion Group, a food service consulting firm.

Kingston, NH, February 14, 2015 --( “‘Form follows function’ is the designer’s creed,” says Mac Dermott, “so you have to define the functions and their purpose and then plan how the functions will be performed before you can begin to design the form. Too often we have seen where a dining facility design was completed and built before its plan of operation was developed.”

“The difference between pre-planning a new or renovated facility or waiting until afterwards can be thousands of dollars, not just in excess construction costs, but because built-in inefficiencies raise long-term labor and other operating costs,” he says.

Sometimes, the new café can be well-designed, attractive and efficient from the customer’s point of view, but labor-intensive and uneconomic, according to Mac Dermott. An example he cites is a servery where the service counters are widely spaced, leaving ample room for customers to circulate.

“But all those counters – hot food, action station, deli, grill, pizza, ethnic specialty and others – have to be staffed, yet a peak meal period, usually lunch, and dinner at a campus dining center, lasts only 60 to 90 minutes,” he notes. “The rest of the time, the counters must be staffed, although business is minimal, or closed, depriving customers of choice. Either option is a loser for the operator.”

The better design, he says, clusters several counters close together so that, for example, two servers can cover three stations, or one server can work two. Properly planned, the same efficient customer traffic flow can be achieved.

“When a new facility is being designed, the impulse is to provide the newest, best, biggest without first considering the size of the dining center’s potential audience, demographic makeup, regional food preference and the like,” Mac Dermott says.

Among other factors Clarion Group considers in planning a dining service and facility:

“What is the off-site competition? Restaurants or fast food outlets that would or would not appeal to some of your population? How do we plan to ensure our on-site facility becomes preferred to the off-sit competition?

- How accessible is the dining center to the population? People in a high-rise office building may have an easy time getting to the café (provided the café is on the same elevator bank as the offices), while students on a large campus might not, and would look for other meal solutions.
- In a college or university, what is (or will be) the format of the residents’ meal plan? Will it be an all-you-care-to-eat plan, accessed via a meal card at the dining hall door, or a debit card plan, where resident students purchase meals on an a la carte basis and share the dining center with non-residents, faculty and others?
- Planning the servery is only a part of the total dining hall design. “The kitchen, food production system and other “back of the house” spaces are equally important to ensure the desired level of meals, variety, quality and service is achieved,” he says.

“The most effective and efficient way to say ‘fresh’ and ‘quality’ to customers – and reduce labor costs and waste – is to bring as much food preparation to the service counter as possible, Mac Dermott advises. “This requires advance planning because utilities and the ventilation system as well as the cooking equipment need to be considered in the design.”

About Clarion Group

Clarion Group is an consulting firm that advises companies, professional firms, colleges and universities, independent schools and institutions in the management, operation and improvement of their in-house employee/student food services, catering, conference, lodging and related hospitality services throughout the U.S. and Canada.

For information, contact:
Tom Mac Dermott, FCSI, President
Clarion Group
PO Box 158, Kingston, NH 03848-0158
603/642-8011 or
Clarion Group
Tom Mac Dermott