How to design the best dining facilities for Millennial students

Location, visibility, and adaptability are three important ideas to keep in mind when designing campus dining spaces, writes Gresham Smith and Partners’ Patrick Gilbert.

August 05, 2016 |
GS&P Dialogue

Vanderbilt University's Rand Hall offers ample indoor and outdoor dining space along one of the most high-traffic paths through campus. Photo courtesy of GS&P.

A decade or two ago, design for higher-education institutions centered primarily on traditional classrooms and dormitories. But today’s college students have greater expectations: for connectivity, for comfort, for inspiration. To deliver facilities that enable living and learning in this new academic landscape, designers are thinking out-of-the-box (and off-the-campus, as private developers offer increasingly appealing live/learn/play alternatives right next door). The New Student blog series discusses higher-ed design trends and best practices for supporting the millennial generation.

I’m excited to conclude GS&P’s The New Student blog series by discussing what I feel is potentially the most important social aspect of millennials’ university experience: dining. Don’t get me wrong – I realize that today’s college students are more on-the-go than ever, and on-the-go food must be available to them. But meals are still a central part of daily life, with studying, meetings, friendships and relationships happening around the table. When I think back to my own experience at the University of Tennessee years ago, it’s one of the primary things that hasn’t changed between then and now. The dining halls, cafeterias and bistros (come to think of it, bistros didn’t yet exist on the University of Tennessee campus when I was a student) may look quite different, and technology and amenities may support a far more pleasing experience, but the camaraderie and collaboration that happens in these spaces is, refreshingly, the same.

What I’ll talk about today are the key design elements that appeal to millennials who, as we’ve made clear in this series, expect an elevated campus-wide experience. This is a generation that can afford to visit some of the city’s finest restaurant offerings when they venture off-campus, and a generation that can commend or condemn a meal with a quick Yelp! Review, so we have to design for their evolved tastes. Here’s a look at the most important things we bear in mind:

Location, location, location!
A prime location is the baseline goal with any modern campus-dining facility. Its importance is on par with opening a retail store on street-level, in the most highly trafficked part of the city. For the dining spaces I’ve designed with GS&P, our team has aimed for a “corner of Main & Main” location whenever possible. It should be at the center of activity, highly convenient and easily accessed as students traverse campus on foot or bicycle.

Visibility
There’s another component of “good location” that’s not as obvious. We’ve learned through conversations with millennial students that campus dining is, more than anything else, about seeing and being seen. So in addition to making sure the facility itself is easily accessed, it’s important that the arrangement of seating inside the space is optimized for visibility. We strive to maximize sight lines with interior design, so students already seated can see who’s entering the cafeteria, and students entering can see what friends have already arrived and where they should pull up a chair. Visibility elevates the dining space to a social center.

 

Campus dining spaces aren't only about food; they're a hub for studying, camaraderie and connectivity. Photo courtesy of GS&P.

 

Adaptability
One more important element of a university dining space, evidenced by research in the form of surveys and conversations with students, is adaptability. We touched on the idea of flexibility during our first blog post about classrooms and study areas, and because dining spaces are often some of the most popular places to meet with classmates, adaptability is equally important in the cafeteria. We introduce a variety of seating options like tables with chairs that can quickly added or removed, booth seating for a sense of privacy, and even tiered seating for group meetings and presentations. And we’ve designed spaces that can evolve throughout the day. At Vanderbilt University, the Chef James Bistro transforms after breakfast and lunch into a performance area around dinnertime. We included a stage for concerts and speeches, and the space truly comes alive as entertainment, rather than meals, becomes the focus.

Style
The style element in a campus dining space is often the greatest challenge. To some degree, we aim for a timeless aesthetic with durable materials, because we know universities can’t re-invent their food service locations every few years and it’s difficult to keep such high-traffic, high-use areas clean. But we still want it to feel modern and on-trend, in order to appeal to millennials – it’s a delicate balance to strike, with the right combination of colors, furniture and other materials helping us achieve our goal. And we also bring in our Branded Environments designers to help us strategically incorporate the university’s branding and identity throughout the space.

If you’ve read the other posts in our series, you’ve likely noticed a theme in millennial-focused design. No matter the type of space – library, classroom, apartment, retail store or dining hall – today’s students want convenience, quality and flexibility. By designing with those elements in mind, universities can achieve the dynamic spaces that millennials want.

GS&P Dialogue | GS&P
Gresham, Smith and Partners

Gresham, Smith and Partners' blog, Dialogue, is about starting discussions. We want to get people thinking about issues and trends that are impacting the design services industry and the market sectors GS&P architects, engineers, interior designers, planners, consultants and environmental scientists serve. Great ideas are typically enhanced through conversation and often stifled by singular views and opinion. We hope you'll join in this conversation and help us to create a meaningful Dialogue. Visit http://dialogue.greshamsmith.com.

Related Blogs

Inconvenient meeting spaces, inadequate task seating, and frequent interruptions were among the key takeaways from healthcare designer Carolyn Fleetwood’s observation of a nurse during an eight-hour shift. Photos courtesy GS&P

August 02, 2017 | Healthcare Facilities | GS&PCarolyn Fleetwood Blake, IIDA, LEED AP, EDAC

From the surprising number of “hunting and gathering” trips to the need for quiet spaces for phone calls, i...

July 10, 2017 | Retail Centers | GS&PSteve Hohulin, AICP

The retail sector is charting unfamiliar territory as web sales and evolving tastes force a paradigm shift....

March 23, 2017 | Retail Centers | GS&PVanessa Newton

The retail sector is charting unfamiliar territory as web sales and evolving tastes force a paradigm shift....

January 23, 2017 | Architects | GS&PPhillip Petty

A branded environment has the potential to create a long-lasting impression for your intended audiences....

As UF Health North demonstrates, developer-driven projects can achieve the same high quality healing environments and design aesthetics as provider-driven projects.

December 13, 2016 | Healthcare Facilities | GS&PJames R. Kolb, RA, LEED AP

When entering a new market, the financial risk can be magnified to the point that the investment – although...

Images courtesy GS&P.

July 20, 2016 | Healthcare Facilities | GS&PRay Wong, AIA, NCARB, EDAC, LEED GA

Charting procedures and highlighting improvement opportunities can lead to developing effective design stra...

University of Florida Health Jacksonville. Images courtesy GS&P.

May 10, 2016 | Sustainable Design and Construction | GS&PCorie Baker, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, EDAC

GS&P's Corie Baker shows how to design and orient a building to efficiently collect or dissipate solar...

How retailers can create spaces to appeal to Millennial shoppers

The GS&P-designed 5th + Broadway mixed-use development provides provides pedestrian and mass-transit access as well as a variety of retail, dining, entertainment options on ground level. Images courtesy GS&P.

April 27, 2016 | Retail Centers | GS&PBrandon Bell

Today's college students have a bit more spending power than past generations. In the third part of the The...

Can "active" building designs make people healthier?

The staircase at the GS&P-designed Methodist Olive Branch Hospital helps promote an active lifestyle. Renderings courtesy GS&P

March 07, 2016 | Healthcare Facilities | GS&PTerrance Perdue, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP BD+C

The new high-performance Kaiser Permanente facility in Anne Arundel County, Md., uses the built environment...

Images courtesy GS&P Dialogue

December 21, 2015 | Urban Planning | GS&PJessica K. Lucyshyn, PE

How does success in managing density begin? By being design friendly to everyone, writes Jessica K. Lucyshy...

Overlay Init