Design Trends in Dining Facilities

Food served in today’s workplace or college campus is more than just a cafeteria with a few options.

From full-service cafés featuring made-to-order ethnic dishes, coffee bars, and executive dining to catering and special events, commercial dining facilities today continue to evolve. What for many years was a relatively straightforward design and construction process for AEC teams is now significantly more complex, as corporations and educational institutions respond to changing economies, health trends, food processing practices, regulations, code requirements, and practical considerations.

Dining facilities are one of the more active AEC project types in the current market, so building teams invested in designing and constructing these facilities should consider several trends influencing activities in this sector.


The accelerated pace of technology continues to drive faster food service and more efficient kitchens. As well, changing consumer expectations and behaviors are driving dining facilities to meet shifting needs with re-imagined styles of service. BVH provides our corporate, education and institutional dining clients with cutting-edge and intuitive technological solutions that not only increase the speed of service, but also provide easier and more efficient ways of managing their dining programs.

For example, the primary goal of Quinnipiac University’s Carl Hansen Dining Hall renovation project was to enhance the student dining experience and double the venue’s seating capacity and meal count. Centerbrook Architects and BVH’s high-tech, energy-efficient design solutions helped improve the logistics of preparing and serving food to the Quinnipiac student population, and transformed the venue into a lively, social campus destination.

UConn Israel Putnam Refectory, designed to accommodate 700 students.


Dining facilities today require more complex integration of the MEP systems and a higher level of communication, reliability and sustainability than in past years.Building owners’ efforts to reduce the costs of build-outs, cut waste and enhance sustainability measures are influencing some to repurpose old buildings by investing in energy-efficient equipment, materials and MEP systems. Overall, the systems must help save energy, be easily maintained, comply with codes and regulations, and meet the basic design intent.

BVH has successfully partnered with numerous architects and owners to reduce the environmental impact of dining facilities – whether for a new building, infrastructure upgrade or renovated space. Our most successful sustainable MEP solutions include variable volume hood systems, high-efficiency chillers, condensing boilers, variable-flow pumping systems, outdoor air energy recovery system, low-flow plumbing fixtures, high-efficiency lighting systems, and outdoor air delivery monitoring.

For example, BVH also worked with Centerbrook Architects on Quinnipiac University’s new 85,000-SF Rocky Top Student Center, which includes a 500-seat dining hall. The design incorporates numerous sustainable approaches and renewable energy systems, among them a ground source cooling system, photovoltaic collectors, and a highly efficient trigeneration plant. The building also houses the energy and communications center for Quinnipiac’s new York Hill campus.

Quinnipiac University Rocky Top Student Center & Dining Hall
Architect: Centerbrook Architects


Since 2005, Connecticut has had a general permit in place governing the discharge of Fats, Oils and Grease (FOG) from food service fixtures and equipment into the environment. All commercial or institutional kitchens, including schools, universities, restaurants, hotels, hospitals, and factory cafeterias, must install grease traps to intercept and collect FOG from kitchen wastewater to prevent the deposition of pipe-clogging grease into sanitary drainage systems.

The general permit issued in Connecticut in 2005 included a compliance schedule. However, for the first 10 years after its enactment, the schedules were not enforced and thus many building owners did not implement new FOG measures. The 2015 updates to the general permit mandates that an Authorized Agent must approve the design, installation and inspection of all FOG management equipment. This has had several implications on the design and construction of dining facilities.

For one, many owners embarking on dining facility renovations today are facing fines and regulatory challenges when submitting renovation plans because they are unable to provide an Authorized Agent with prior FOG management records. And while food establishments have the flexibility to implement either interior (under-counter) or exterior grease traps, both options pose challenges.

Exterior grease interceptors are located outside of a building due to their large size and for ease of maintenance. These units receive FOG discharge waste from a facility and utilize gravity flow and retention time to separate FOG from the waste stream prior to it entering the municipal sanitary drainage system. Interior grease interceptors are relatively-compact steel units located within a discharging fixture’s point of use, where they separate and retain FOG from the fixture’s waste stream.

The 2015 General Permit updates recommend the installation of an exterior unit because interior units’ mechanical parts require daily maintenance to function effectively. Thus, kitchen facilities and restaurant owners that were once compliant with a small, under-counter kitchen device must now install a large, exterior grease trap unit if they want to expand or renovate. The Putnam Refectory at UConn’s Storrs campus, for example, is a 42,000-SF dining hall undergoing a complete modernization, upgrade and expansion. BVH is working with Amenta Emma Architects to renovate its servery and seating areas, increase capacity, and modify major building systems. A small interior building, the Putnam Refectory renovation requires the design and installation of 3 large, exterior, 8,000-gallon grease interceptors with a 1,300-SF footprint in order to comply with the new regulations. The multiple-unit system provides the kitchen with continuous service.

Design teams must account for these large grease interceptors in their design solutions and project budgets, taking into consideration the impacts the exterior units will have on neighboring facilities. Exterior grease units are passive and require quarterly servicing as opposed to the interior units’ daily maintenance requirements. Exterior units also require a significant upfront investment and the separation of domestic sanitary lines. To find an ideal location for these grease interceptors, design teams must also account for unpleasant odors, proximity to neighboring facilities, pumping capacity for remote service and service vehicle location. Maintenance plans and service providers must be part of design solution.

BVH helps implement dining projects that brings our clients’ kitchen facilities into compliance. The Ella Grasso and Windham Regional Technical High School projects are cases in point. Both schools are undergoing extensive renovations that require exterior grease traps. BVH’s integrated engineering disciplines and full-service approach have helped streamline the design efforts of both renovations, and both facilities’ FOG compliance plans meet all code and regulatory requirements. Both facilities are moving ahead to the construction phase and are on track to meet schedule and budget goals.


A well-planned, dynamic dining facility reflects an institution’s culture and identity, helps to achieve strategic goals, improves morale and productivity, and enhances overall functional and operational efficiency. Despite the ongoing changes taking place in today’s economy, health trends or regulatory environment, BVH collaborates with our clients to create dining spaces that strike a balance between performance, image, budget and compliance. From concept to design to construction administration, BVH helps create dining programs that meet each client’s unique culinary needs, sustainability goals, and regulatory requirements.