Room Service: Integrating Food into the Residence Hall

by Sara G. Stein, Mark Warner

December 05, 2016

Students today live a 24/7 lifestyle, so residential life and campus dining teams are adapting to improve student services, wellness, and opportunities for community engagement. An increasing number of campuses are integrating food into the residence hall – not only in apartments and suite-style units, but also as focused community spaces that serve residents in a variety of ways. Vibrant social spaces with soft seating, flexible furniture, and a kitchen or food-prep area are popular with good reason: food has always served a cultural function – at the center of social occasions and even unifying regions. In a residence hall, integrating community kitchens and/or a food-service function can highlight the importance that food plays in wellness, education and culture. It can support residential life programming, enable students to share their heritage, and logistically complement somewhat limited weekend or late-night food service elsewhere on campus. Successful models for integrating food in residential facilities include college-provided staff who manage daily upkeep and maintenance to ensure clean and highly effective environments.

Campus residence halls that include community spaces, particularly with a food service element, instill in residents a stronger sense of self and feeling of safety, concern for peer success, and overall engagement in the collegiate experience.

In the design of residential life facilities, the overall trend is to create a hybrid space by merging the kitchen and student common lounge, similar to the trend in commercial housing where the kitchen is part of the “great room.” Cafes such as Starbucks have also inspired this new model of supporting student living and study space. Over the past year, we have worked with Trinity College, Duke University, and Pace University to integrate food service in varying capacities into residence halls.

Trinity College

Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, recently renovated nine common spaces in its first-year residence halls to provide modern, flexible spaces that support the “Nest System,” the heart of Trinity's first-year experience. Each nest of no more than 75 students is supported by a team to offer a wonderful, blended Trinity experience. In spaces from yoga rooms to community kitchens: soft seating, copious amounts of natural daylight, lively colors and warm materials like wood ceilings foster student engagement.

Wheaton Hall includes an upper-level bridge – a component of last summer’s renovation. The bridge serves as more than an architectural connection: this linking space allows students to congregate to do homework, watch TV, and prepare their own light meals and birthday cakes for classmates. The lowest level of Jones Hall shares many of these same attributes, but on a larger scale.  The 1,300 SF room contains multiple zones defined by finishes and furnishings. A wood slat wall that serves as a backdrop for a large screen continues onto the ceiling, informally defining the area below as a casual seating zone where students can watch TV or connect their laptops to the big screen. Other zones include modular furniture that can be easily reconfigured to accommodate a large group or many small, separate groups. These spaces particularly reinforce the house system culture by offering “house” meals, exclusive to the house residents, once a week in a large dining setting at dedicated times.

Duke University

Duke University’s Wannamaker Quad houses a wellness community where residents are encouraged to develop and grow their definition of wellness as both individuals and as a neighborhood. To improve Wannamaker’s social spaces, three underutilized common rooms were renovated into more usable spaces. The first “orange space” or common room, designed to support quiet study, was combined with a kitchen where students can prepare light meals. This calm environment, reminiscent of a local coffee shop, encourages social learning by serving as both study lounge and café-like eating area. The second orange space was renovated as a full demonstration kitchen that is often programmed by residence life staff and otherwise available to students 24/7. The third space was converted into several smaller spaces, including student rooms, a meditation room, and small study rooms for two to four students.

The Wannamaker renovation also reconfigured the building entry, which had previously channeled residents directly into a stair or a corridor. The new entry sequence brings residents would into an inviting space that offers them an immediate opportunity to interact with their peers. Similar in concept to the spaces at Trinity College, these active circulation zones also support student gathering.

Pace University

As a part of the master plan for the Pleasantville Campus, Pace University added 760 beds by building Alumni and Elm Halls. Neighboring Kessel Student Center, which includes the main dining function for campus, was expanded to support the new residence halls, and together with them forms a new campus green space.  Alumni Hall, a living-learning facility, consists of suite-style units that support Pace’s First-year Interest Groups. The first floor, which contains classrooms and other spaces used by the entire Pace population, includes a dedicated food service function directly supported by a food service provider. While the main dining hall isn’t far, the food service option in the residence hall supports the student meal plan with late night and weekend options. The inclusion of the café on this path of frequent travel provides quick grab-and-go options for the residents and helps activate the adjacent common space. The residential life staff makes significant efforts to program these new spaces to maximize their potential. Campus levels of student engagement, informal as well as through planned student events, increased during Alumni Hall’s first year of operation.

The added value for students residing on a college campus can be measured in peer and campus engagement, retention, and a greater perceived sense of community.  Campus residence halls that include community spaces, particularly with a food service element, instill in residents a stronger sense of self and feeling of safety, concern for peer success, and overall engagement in the collegiate experience

Sara G. Stein

Academic & Student Life Planning & Design

Mark Warner

Design Principal