The morning new students arrived on campus, Mather Dining Hall was partially open, offering a glimpse of a new interior replete with branded blue and gold décor.
Just a few hours later, Trinity College’s central dining area revealed its full splendor to first-year, transfer, and Individualized Degree Program students whose scheduled outdoor barbeque was moved indoors for rain.
The opening of Mather Dining Hall, with 36 percent more seating and a completely renovated layout, proceeded as scheduled for the start of the academic year. That happened despite considerable external challenges ranging from an abbreviated construction schedule to Mother Nature.
“It took a village to pull it off, this could not have happened without the incredible partnership between Trinity and Chartwells” said Toby Chenette, district manager for Chartwells, which operates dining programs at Trinity and on about 300 campuses nationally.
As with any renovation of student space, the summer break provided a window of time to work. But this summer offered a few additional pressure points. Over the course of the past 10 weeks, the construction team adjusted to supply chain delays.
“You’ve heard of fast-track schedules,” said Thomas Fusciello, assistant vice president of construction, facilities & operations at Trinity. “This was a flash schedule.”
The last time Mather Dining Hall was renovated was 16 years ago, when most of the first-year students were pre-schoolers. With this summer’s work, the footprint of the space remained the same, while the furniture, layout, and materials—from the flooring to the ceiling—has all changed.
The dining hall will stay open longer and later, its operating hours stretching from 7:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 10:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. on weekends.
The all-access nature of the meal plan means students can visit Mather an unlimited number of times each day. The schedule is also intended to help reduce food insecurity on campus and promote healthier eating habits, according to planners.
Within the new seating array, which raised the total number of spots to 488, are also new seating options. High tops, tables, and booth seating now encourage students to remain in the space to pursue activities beyond eating, such as meeting with clubs or study groups. Soft seating at the front of the dining hall invites students who are waiting for friends to lounge in comfort.
“We want to change the vibe for students who are busy with classes, clubs, and sports,” said Chenette. “I’d love to see it used in ways it hasn’t before…I really hope it becomes more of a hangout.”
Booths with electrical outlets enable students to do schoolwork on their laptops. QR codes at four food stations enable students to order, then go gather drinks or set down backpacks, before responding to a text that their dishes are ready. The technology provides a range of customizable menu items so that students have the freedom to mix and match ingredients to create their own meals.
To promote student wellness, Mather Dining Hall includes a performance kitchen to provide a healthy menu platform and options, and an expanded allergen awareness kitchen, “Delicious Without,” featuring menu options prepared without any of the nine major allergens.
“We wanted the renovation to include components that resonate with students,” said Mark Tarkanick, senior director of marketing for Chartwells. “Students today are more retail-focused and our primary goal was to provide students with a culinary experience that reflects their preferences while still promoting healthy eating habits.”
Sustainability, which is a focus of the College’s strategic plan, Summit, continues to be a central design feature. LED lighting fills the Mather Dining Hall, which is certified by the Green Restaurant Association, said Chenette.
Renovations are also underway in The Cave. A new virtual kitchen, “Crave,” will allow diners to place orders on Grubhub and pick them up from new food lockers, offering a fast grab-and-go option. The reusable dining containers distributed last semester can continue to be used at The Cave, as well as at the third campus dining location, The Bistro.
When dining staff returned to campus for the academic year, “I heard a lot of oohs and aahs,” said Chenette., adding, “this is set to be a culinary journey that will leave everyone eagerly craving more.”