9/08/2021 Jason Klinger

F&M's Iconic Dining Hall is Revamped and Ready for its Close-up

Franklin & Marshall community members returning to campus for the fall semester were welcomed by a delicious surprise.

This summer, the College extensively renovated its primary dining facility, the Restaurants at Ben Franklin. The cosmetic changes are immediately noticeable. The cooking and food-preparation areas are clearly visible to diners. The spaces are far more open and brighter. Welcoming earth tones — a pleasant combination of soothing beiges and rich greens — adorn the walls and ceilings. All of the tables and chairs, including elevated café-style seating areas, are new.

  • This summer, the College extensively renovated its primary dining facility, the Restaurants at Ben Franklin. The entrance to the dining hall has been opened up to allow more light and give diners more space to move freely during peak hours. This summer, the College extensively renovated its primary dining facility, the Restaurants at Ben Franklin. The entrance to the dining hall has been opened up to allow more light and give diners more space to move freely during peak hours. Image Credit: Deb Grove
  • Students dig into the expanded salad bar at the Mongolian Grill station. Students dig into the expanded salad bar at the Mongolian Grill station. Image Credit: Deb Grove
  • A streamlined and easier to navigate beverage station is one of the improvements made over the summer. A streamlined and easier to navigate beverage station is one of the improvements made over the summer. Image Credit: Deb Grove
  • A chef lines up plates of freshly made pork BBQ sandwiches for diners. A chef lines up plates of freshly made pork BBQ sandwiches for diners. Image Credit: Deb Grove
  • Chefs cook up a pasta dish at the remodeled and expanded grill station. Chefs cook up a pasta dish at the remodeled and expanded grill station. Image Credit: Deb Grove
  • The open-air bakery allows diners to watch the bakers as they prepare fresh goods daily. The open-air bakery allows diners to watch the bakers as they prepare fresh goods daily. Image Credit: Deb Grove
  • A sugar cookie gets the F&M stamp of approval. A sugar cookie gets the F&M stamp of approval. Image Credit: Deb Grove
  • Students line up for a plate at the Simply Servings station, where staff have eliminated eight of the nine most common food allergens. Students line up for a plate at the Simply Servings station, where staff have eliminated eight of the nine most common food allergens. Image Credit: Deb Grove
  • Chefs prepare meals at the popular Mongolian Grill station. Chefs prepare meals at the popular Mongolian Grill station. Image Credit: Deb Grove
  • A team sweeps the space in anticipation of moving in the new furniture. A team sweeps the space in anticipation of moving in the new furniture. Image Credit: Deb Grove
  • A crew works on installing the faux brick walls in the dining hall. A crew works on installing the faux brick walls in the dining hall. Image Credit: Deb Grove
  • The skeleton of the new dining hall space takes shape in July. The skeleton of the new dining hall space takes shape in July. Image Credit: Deb Grove

The changes to the menu are equally pronounced. For example, the popular Simple Servings station to the immediate left of the dining hall entrance now strenuously screens seven of the eight major food allergens (the lone exception is fin fish) to protect students and community members who have strict dietary needs, said Drew Niemann, general manager of Sodexo Universities Dining.

“If you have allergy concerns, you can feel completely comfortable having a meal here," he said. "The station is protected by barriers and is supported by a segregated part of the kitchen that allows us to service the area without threat of cross-contamination.” Students with more extensive concerns are encouraged to meet with Registered Dietician Sue Hurd to discuss their options.

Other changes include expanding and moving the vegetarian station, Trellis, into the KIVO section of the dining hall, putting Kosher, vegetarian, vegan and organic offerings all in one place. Additionally, the grill and deli stations have moved to a more expansive pasta and pizza island to make way for a bakery, where the work of the bakers is on full display. In fact, the entire operation is now set up so that diners can watch most of their food being prepared.

It's a change that "lets students see that most of what we do is made fresh and on premises," said Andrew Mendoza, campus executive chef. "It feels more like a restaurant now and less like an all-you-can-eat buffet."

The renovation was 30 months in the making, but most of the heavy lifting was done over the summer. It's the first major overhaul of the space since 2005, said Barry L. Bosley, F&M's associate vice president for administration.

Before work began, the dining team solicited input from students from the Diplomatic Congress’ food committee. Their ideas included expanding the allergen-free options, improving the aesthetics of the entrance, and considering an app that could centralize all things dining on the F&M campus. Then, over the summer, students from the College's Creativity, Innovation, & the Future of Work initiative were given a tour of the site and provided feedback of their own.

"During these interactions, we presented the opportunity for some of these students to join us as marketing interns, and soon, one or two will be coming onboard," Niemann said. 

Did you know...

  • At any given time, there are 1,450 F&M students on meal plans.

  • The dining hall requires 40 staff to operate at peak efficiency; an additional 22 staff cover the retail dining areas on campus.

  • The dining hall is an "85% scratch" facility, meaning the vast majority of what the staff serves is made fresh daily.

  • During the height of the pandemic, when the dining hall delivered meals to residents, 187 out of 500 individuals ordering meals (37%) said they had a dietary concern that included keeping kosher, vegetarian or vegan (the dining staff prepared and delivered 9,982 meals during the pandemic).

  • The most popular stations are the two grills in each section (main grill and Mongolian Grill).

  • The dough used to make pizza at the grill is handmade and tossed on site. They plan to begin making their own pasta this academic year, as well.

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