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5 Things to Consider When Converting Underutilized Space into a Retail Dining Concept

With the foodservice giants having raised the standard of an exceptional café experience, you may be considering incorporating a “café” type concept in an underutilized space such as a lobby or corner area of your facility to generate revenue away from your current foodservice operation.

"You only get one chance to make a first impression."

This adage also resonates to life in the foodservice realm. With countless cafés, restaurants and fast food establishments aplenty, the consumer is inundated with deciding where to eat, drink and spend their money. Enticing the attention and business of today’s consumer can be captured with a little ingenuity that creates a unique one-of-a-kind “experience.”

With the foodservice giants having raised the standard of an exceptional café experience, you may be considering incorporating a “café” type concept in an underutilized space such as a lobby or corner area of your facility to generate revenue away from your current foodservice operation.

  1. Location– Determine the best location for your “café concept”; a lobby may be the perfect location or consider a space that's currently away from your cafeteria where there's existing foot traffic and may be a viable location to set up. Study traffic patterns, get feedback from students and visitors, do your research before moving to the next step.
  2. Decide on Space Requirements – Careful research and consideration should be taken when designing your space. Define your long-term goals and have a clear idea on how you will best utilize the space. Go on a research expedition and visit local eateries to view equipment, traffic flow, and aesthetics. This will greatly help in the design phase.
  3. Equipment – Consider self-contained mobile retail equipment concepts that fit the space and offer flexibility in terms of the ability to easily move the counters to another location if the particular location selected isn’t profitable. Also, think about using equipment that provides flexibility such as a basic open kiosk platform or larger size configuration made up of several counters. It's important to select equipment based on capacity, labor, anticipated maintenance costs of operating the space and initial cost of the equipment.
  4. Menu selection will drive “the customer experience” and researching your options prior to the design phase is key. It's important to remember that the menu creates an “image” of your establishment and needs to be an extension of the design you're trying to portray. Menu planning to meet current trends and food prep required will drive the menu. Will you be serving prepackaged prepared items or will you be implementing a menu made-to-order style concept such as paninis, made-to-order sandwiches, noodle bars, specialty coffee and snacks, etc.?
  5. Merchandising/Signage – Because a dining experience is more than great food, food display and merchandising can drive revenue and participation. Creative merchandising can capture missed sales opportunities, maximize profitability and increase customer satisfaction and repeat business. There are 4 key elements to successful merchandising; by incorporating these into your retail dining operation you can enhance your foodservice operation and ultimately increase sales.

By making a concerted effort in the research phase, you will be able to effectively implement a successful revenue generating stream in an underutilized area that will compliment your retail dining program.

For a 30 minute consultation with a Multiteria representative who can walk you through the design and implementation steps to provide food and beverage service in a remote area, contact us today!

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Limited Budget?  5 Ideas for the Outdated Cafeteria

When you have a tight or non-existent budget, here are five ways you can renovate an outdated cafeteria.

School districts participating in the National School Lunch Program ( serve healthy meals to a staggering 31 million children daily.  But many schools lack adequate infrastructure and up-to-date foodservice equipment.  With ever changing regulations that alter school foodservice programs, along with growing student populations, managing a program with outdated equipment adds another level of challenges.

Schools have a growing list of daily issues to contend with besides outdated equipment; labor shortages, space restrictions, limited storage for the increase in fresh fruits and vegetables, plus a decrease in allotted time for lunch to name a few.  Often these concerns take center stage.  Combine this with tight or non-existent budgets, what is a foodservice operator to do?

Here are 5 options to consider:

1.) “One-by-One” Replacements – Instead of doing a full renovation, one option is to replace outdated counters or sections of counters one-by-one with flexible counters. This approach enables you to begin the renovation process with one-off replacements which may be more attainable and cost-effective for you to serve a growing student population. It also spreads out the transition over several years with smaller and more frequent equipment purchases.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a practical solution. My school has an outdated serving line that’s “one” continuous piece. What can I do?

2.) Think Vertical – When you have space limitations as well as increased student populations and limited lunch time to serve students in 10-15 minutes, go vertical. If you’re operating a 30+ year old cafeteria, you may not be able to retrofit your serving line. So if budget allows, consider purchasing a heated and/or refrigerated visual merchandising display case for pre-made grab-and-go menu options. This will allow you to serve more fast-access items in one location, reorganize overcrowded counter space and alleviate serving line congestion by having students quickly make meal selections. Artfully displaying menu selections also raises visibility which could potentially serve more students.

This solution doesn’t work for me due to a lack of counter space and a lack of electrical supply required to plug in a display case. Is there another option?

3.) Pop-up Portable Retail Counters – These types of mobile counters can provide an additional revenue-generating stream in underutilized spaces. As “extended or additional lunch lines,” they offer the advantage of being moved anywhere within a cafeteria or even to open areas outside of a cafeteria such as lobbies or hallways. This can also expand your service to provide self-serve grab-and-go prepacked reimbursable meals, a la carte menus or afterschool smart snacks away from your existing serving line. Positive impacts include capturing or increasing participation and serving more students in a limited timeframe. Pop-up portable retail counters can be an affordable option when budgets don’t allow for a full renovation or one-by-one counter replacements.

I don’t have the staff required to operate this concept. I also lack the budget to purchase another piece of equipment. Is there another option to consider?

4) Merchandising – Merchandising can breathe new life into your existing space and give a facelift to an existing serving line. With limited budgets, consider new vinyl wraps for your existing counter fronts. This can provide a low-cost solution to refreshing tired and outdated counters. A quick Google search can provide you a list of several local companies that can assist you with this method. For décor, select a few collections of colorful eye-catching merchandising props to enhance aesthetic appeal and functionality. Also, adding signage to help identify menus and food stations can successfully increase participation. Incorporating the 4 visual keys to merchandising is an inexpensive yet impactful way to add a “wow factor” to your existing space.

I just don’t have any funds, but I really need to find a way to speed up the service. Is there a “no cost” option?

5) Reorganize Your Serving Line – For little to no cost, reorganizing your serving line can improve functionality and temporarily fix traffic patterns. Start by observing your serving line during peak breakfast or lunch rush. Look for bottlenecking issues, from food selection to point of service. Identify where the line slows down. Are there too many menu choices for students to choose from? If you provide five options, perhaps reducing them to three would help students make faster selections. Or, consider reorganizing the flow. If possible, try moving your cashier station away from the serving line(s) to alleviate backups and maintain flow. If you serve small condiment packets, neatly reorganize them in individual baskets or decorative tins for quick and easy access. Streamlining the process with some small tweaks can shave off a few seconds here and there which all adds up to getting students through the line faster.

We’ve worked with many districts with limited budgets to come up with solutions that were right for them. We can help you too with a site visit to view your operation in action and discuss possible ideas that you can immediately incorporate into your dining space.  Tell us what you need help with. Contact us today!

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Successful Cafeteria Design

6 Things to Consider in a Cafeteria Redesign

Are you a food service operator challenged with trying to generate increased revenue with outdated serving lines? Is this influencing you to renovate your cafeteria?

The need to renovate an outdated cafeteria is understandable as the serving lines of yesterday were designed for lower customer volumes and limited menus. They often don’t contain enough hot or cold wells to accommodate all entrees and side dishes (e.g. sandwiches, beverages or desserts) in demand today. This is just one major factor that fuels the decision to update a cafeteria.

To achieve a successful cafeteria design, begin the thought process before working with your architect or consultant. The best place to start is to consider six key criteria.

  1. Establish a budget. This will be the benchmark that tells you if your renovations are feasible.
  2. List your proposed menu ideas and concepts.
  3. Take into account the number of meals you are serving.
  4. Decide on the size and configuration of the serving stations required.
  5. Determine the key components for your serving stations, e.g. hot wells, cold wells, refrigeration, etc.
  6. Begin selecting your equipment and decor elements.

As you work on these six steps, strive to become an educated consumer. Learn about the many new types of equipment, decorative finishes and merchandising methods available to correct the deficiencies you’ve identified. This will enable you to make the best buying decision for your space and customers.

Additional Considerations:

  1. Scatter Design– A scatter design uses food stations that are themed with individual identities to serve specific menu items. Examples include grill stations, made-to-order delis and international menu ideas, all which appeal to the sophisticated palate and broad ethnic diversity of today’s customer. Also, merchandising is key to the scatter design. Select colorful eye-catching signage that identifies your food stations and highlights your menus’ nutritional content.
  2. Flexibility, Functionality, Longevity– When researching equipment, take into account flexibility, functionality and longevity. Regardless of space and anticipated layout, flexibility in the design of the equipment is the most important of these three criteria. Food trends constantly change and dictate menu choices. Flexible equipment will allow you to quickly adapt to these changes. Also, choosing functional, durable serving line pieces is equally important as they can be easily rearranged or moved for cleaning.
  3. Important Counter Options– How many times have menu changes forced you or your staff to use a hot well as a cold well and vice versa? Consider adding convertible hot-to-cold wells to counters and kiosks to accommodate changing menu trends. Also, adding self service food shields expands your serving capacity and are especially helpful during labor shortages or when menu changes dictate self service.

Planning Resources:

  1. Internet – The internet is ideal for researching different manufacturers to compare equipment, features and benefits that are important to you. Be conscious of energy efficiency and lifetime of operating costs.
  2. Site Visits– For a fresh perspective, check out newly built or renovated kitchens and dining facilities. Visit establishments considered industry trendsetters. Pay attention to design, layout and facilities. Consider incorporating their concepts into your cafeteria. Reviewing other operations is a wonderful way to single out good ideas and identify design features that aren’t working as well as intended.
  3. Network– Reach out to fellow foodservice directors who have recently completed a renovation or upgrade. Visit their installations and ask questions about their equipment and design. Ask them what changes they made to their environment to create an exciting customer experience. Find out what worked and what they would do differently.
  4. Foodservice Design and Layout Designers– If you need to build, renovate or make improvements to your existing dining facility, a food service consultant can provide the professional expertise and resources to support your project from design to implementation. To locate a designer in your area, check out the website for Foodservice Consultants Society International (FCSI). Click here to use their consultant locator.
  5. Retail Operations– Retail operations consultants improve business efficiency and profitability by providing a range of strategy, project planning and training services.

Doing your research well in advance of your renovation and listing all of the important elements is worth the effort. In the end, the proper planning will not only increase customer participation and enjoyment, but ultimately improve your revenue.

To help you start your checklist, check out our video, "6 Things to Consider in a Cafeteria Redesign."

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Redesign Your Line

Creating an inviting atmosphere in your K-12 school cafeteria can have a dramatic impact on student participation levels in the lunchroom and classroom. To see a slide show of 10 easy ways you can transform your cafeteria, click here.


Mealtimes should be positive and lunchrooms should be inviting places. Lunch should be an enjoyable part of the school day for students, whether they're in kindergarten or high school. The cafeteria should be a break from the rigors of the school day.

School nutrition programs that embrace this mentality, that transform school cafeterias into places where students can relax, socialize and become nourished, will enjoy the benefits of higher participation levels and higher performing students.

But, the question becomes how?

Create Inviting Entrances

For starters, consider how the lunchroom experience starts. Even a simple welcome sign can go a long way to establishing ownership and a sense of pride, which will inevitably increase student participation. Welcoming décor isn't that difficult to pull off, either. A quick run to the local hobby store can transform an entryway.

Provide Direction

One thing students struggle with the most is limited time. Lunch periods are getting shorter and shorter, and students don't have time to waste on trying to figure out where things are located within the cafeteria. If there's a grill area, identify it. If a line has a designated starting point, let students know. Get creative with signs and identifications too. It's an opportunity to turn a school cafeteria into a space that feels more like a restaurant or food court.

Enhance Displays

How you display foods is almost as important as what foods are displayed. Attracting and enticing students — and ultimately getting those students to buy meals — requires merchandising products in ways that showcase their freshness and abundance. Clean and tidy displays are preferred over clutter and disorder. Lighting and even tray colors like dark reds and blues can make menu items more appealing. The goal is to make foods as enticing as possible because, first, we eat with our eyes.

What are the benefits of a school cafeteria transformation?

Studies show a school cafeteria environment can have an impact on the general performance of the student body. When the eating environment is pleasant and appealing, students eat more of their lunch, do better in the classroom, and have fewer behavioral problems. This is why proper nourishment is so important.

In terms of participation, though, what's the true impact? How much does ambiance affect student meal participation? With just some simple transformations such as displays, graphics, décor, and design, a high school can experience increases of more than 20% in meal participation, resulting in totals of nearly $120,000 in annual revenue.

Learn more about how you can experience significant increases in student participation. Check out our slideshow that offers 10 free tips that will help you transform your cafeteria and improve student engagement in your meal programs.

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Trend Spotlight – Food Insecurity

Of all the foodservice trends we've detailed for 2019, there's one that stands above the rest when it comes to K-12 school nutrition operations.

Food insecurity.

What is it? How prevalent is it in America? And what are the impacts?

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food required to live an active, healthy life. It's described in terms of a full range of security from high to marginal food security at the top end down to low and very low on the bottom.

If you look at the statistics, the numbers are eye-opening. According to the USDA's Economic Research Service from a 2017 report on household food security, an estimated one in eight Americans are food insecure. This total includes more than 12 million children and equals nearly 40 million people overall.

This means a staggering number of students are entering our schools -- day in, day out -- who cannot afford proper nutrition and are often unwilling to look for help because many of the stigmas associated with seeking help are just too big to overcome. The result is a growing student population without proper nutrition, at risk for health repercussions and inadequate fuel for successful academic studies.

There's good news, though.

Because more and more focus is being put on food insecure students, school nutrition directors are focusing this awareness into solutions to help hungry students. They are engaging local populations with new efforts to help curb hunger in the classroom, including these three important micro trends:

Breakfast and Supper in Schools
One way to make sure students avoid hunger at home is to serve them at-home meals in school. Though breakfast and supper are traditionally eaten in the home, by thinking outside the box, capitalizing on available reimbursement funds, and making a commitment to provide important nutrition, many school districts are leading the way in national efforts to fight food insecurity.

Angel Funds
Some school districts across the country are experiencing success with programs called Angel Funds. Essentially, these are pools of money donated by individuals, families, businesses, or charitable organizations to help create a positive impact on students' lives. As an example, a local Rotary Club could donate $5,000 to help fund additional meal services to those who fall in the free and reduced categories.

Food Sharing Programs
Another way that schools can encourage students to help other students is with a concept called sharing tables or carts.  If a student receives a food item in the lunch line that they don't intend to eat - like a piece of fruit - instead of throwing it out, they can place it on a table or cart making it available to other students. Not only does this help hungry students, but it also significantly reduces waste.

Food Banks
Finally, district-wide food banks are a great way to not only get food to those who need it most but also help reduce food waste. On-campus or district food banks are a great way to use leftover foods for good use.

Food insecurity is listed as #11 on our 2019 Foodservice Trends Report. Though they're not listed in any particular order, we invite you to learn about all 12 of them.