The restaurant business has seen dramatic shifts in expectations and culinary trends in recent years.  This evolution of mealtime has been felt in senior communities for several years now.  The quality of the dining experience is a differentiator to make a community stand out from the competition.  Good food is fundamental to success of a community.  Residents demand fresh, locally sourced ingredients, nutritious meals, and a variety of choices.  Many communities have outdated dining venue(s) and limited food offerings based on kitchen infrastructure.  Many buildings struggle with a single kitchen and dining room.  Can you imagine eating at the same restaurant every day?  Does the dining room décor turn people off who simply want a casual meal without feeling like they are required to get dressed up?  This has become a hot topic in master planning sessions on many campuses.  With the right planning, this change can be managed to minimize disruption to residents.  Without some foresight, it can open Pandora’s Box of construction headaches.

The modern commercial kitchen is a much nicer work environment than in the past.  What used to be a “hot in the summer, cold in the winter” space with clutter, and maybe a little more grease and grime than any of us want to think about, is no more.  More stringent sanitation requirements and increased inspection and enforcement are now common.  The exhaust hoods capture more greasy, steamy vapors, and the make-up air is conditioned to make the work area pleasant.  Better lighting improves staff comfort and safety, and results in a better looking food product.  All of these improvements come at a cost.  That cost comes in many forms, from physical space compromises to dollars paid for shiny new equipment.

Several questions need answering and investigation when planning to add or expand foodservice offerings in an existing building:

  • Electrical power demands increase
    • There are more mixers, combi ovens and mocha latte dispensers to use power.
    • Safe food handling requires more refrigeration units to store food throughout the process.
    • Induction cooking uses higher electrical power in place of gas for rapid cooking without hot surfaces.
    • New HVAC systems require power for air conditioning and improved exhaust.
    • Is there any/adequate emergency power for food preservation and limited cooking?
    • How much of the ceiling requires removal and replacement to extend new feeders and circuits to the kitchen?
  • Grease hood exhaust from cooking, steam hood exhaust from dishwashing
    • Does the space for a grease exhaust duct meet all clearance to combustible requirements?
    • If the grease duct cannot take a straight path to the exterior, is there service and cleaning access at required intervals and turns?
    • Will the location of a new kitchen exhaust fan discharge cooking odors near existing windows or air intakes, possibly requiring re-working of existing HVAC serving areas separate from the kitchen?
  • The age-old plumbing adage, ‘stuff flows downhill’ applies
    • Kitchens have a lot of plumbing drains.  Where is the kitchen in relation to the sanitary building drain?
    • Is there a path to install new underground piping to an exterior grease interceptor, as many municipalities now prohibit internal grease traps?
    • Will this new plumbing work require any existing, non-conforming piping to be upgraded, resulting in more demolition and excavation within an existing building?
  • Placement of make-up air handling equipment
    • Modern code required airflow requirements lead to larger equipment.
    • Is there a flat roof?
    • Can the roof support it?
    • Is there space at grade?


That is a long laundry list of items that Ownership and the MEP engineers need to assess when undertaking a foodservice overhaul.  We haven’t even addressed the conundrum of maintaining a reasonable level of daily service during the construction project.  If the plans include renovation, the phasing of disruption and coordination of downtime is critical to maintaining a happy resident population as they await the grand re-opening.

When all these items come together, the results can be stunning.  Residents will be happier, healthier and more social.  Your community will get a great reputation and notoriety for providing a great meal experience that can drive marketing as well as increase occupancy and revenue.