BREAKING: University announces major renovations to TDR beginning in December
TDR to temporarily close in mid-April for construction
For the first time in nearly 40 years, the Terrace Dining Room is getting a complete makeover. When TDR reopens for the 2024-25 school year, it will have additional entrances off of the stairwell and elevators, new dining stations, expanded allergy-friendly and gluten-free options and a variety of seating setups, according to a Nov. 15 email.
The email from Bronté Burleigh-Jones, the University’s chief financial officer, marks the latest of American University’s efforts to improve its dining program, coming just months after an overhaul of meal plans and major renovations to a number of restaurant franchises on campus.
Construction on TDR will take place in two phases. The University also announced renovations to the third floor of the Mary Graydon Center to create the new Student Engagement Commons which begin on Dec. 20.
Timeline for renovations
The University started to consider renovating TDR in 2019, when it switched to Chartwells as its dining provider, according to Michael Scher, the assistant vice president for campus auxiliary services.
Phase 1 of TDR renovations will begin on Dec. 20, with a section of TDR being closed off to begin constructing a new kitchen. The area, located in the back corner of TDR’s north side, is currently occupied by seating, the rotisserie station and the Kosher pantry. It will be walled off once construction begins.
Construction between Dec. 20 and Jan. 20 will include demolition and the removal of building components that contain asbestos, including pipe insulation. Northstar, a company licensed to carry out asbestos abatement under D.C. and federal regulations, will oversee this process to ensure proper containment and safety measures.
Over winter break, the rotisserie station and the allergy-friendly stations will migrate away from the construction area to ensure the food is kept away from the construction, according to Scher. The Kosher Pantry will close during the construction because, according to Scher, AU Kitchen could not relocate it while maintaining Kosher preparation standards. Kosher meals will still be available as to-go meals for a Meal Swipe at TDR.
Construction on the new kitchen will take place throughout the spring semester, but Scher said that the temporary wall, new ventilation, sound-proofing and construction work scheduling practices will ensure community members still have a comfortable dining experience.
“Our spring operations plan includes noise and air quality measures to ensure a continued positive student dining experience,” Burleigh-Jones wrote in the email. “We will also offer pop-up events like food trucks and special brunches at locations across campus during peak brunch and dinner times. These events will be available as [Meal] Swipes or Dining Dollars to our meal plan holders.”
The University will close TDR altogether by mid-April to begin Phase 2: renovations across the space. Scher said that the renovations will take enough time that the University has no choice but to close the dining hall for part of the school year. He added that the choice to close TDR early at the end of the spring semester — rather than open late in the fall semester — was intentional.
“We know that we actually have a better and lesser impact making it fully available for the fall rather than opening late in the fall,” Scher said. “The data shows about a 20 percent [attendance] drop off every year starting right around the week that we’re going to close it in April.”
To compensate for the closure, the University will set up a food tent with similar options to TDR and host food trucks during popular meal times. Scher said both options will allow students to use their Meal Swipes and Dining Dollars.
Additionally, AU Kitchen will add Dining Dollars to all meal plan holders’ accounts based on the plan they hold. All–Inclusive Meal Plan holders’ accounts will receive a total of 100 Dollars with deposits of 50 Dollars each on both Feb. 7 and March 17. Those with a Build Your Own Meal Plan will receive a total of 50 Dollars or 26 Dollars based on the plan they hold.
TDR is set to reopen in time for the fall 2024 semester.
Why renovate now?
The University drew inspiration for TDR’s new open layout and stations from other Chartwells schools such as George Washington University and New York University, as well as food halls in D.C., according to Scher.
“When you walk into a food hall, the first thing you're seeing is all these very different types of things, right?” he said. “There's all these different cuisines, different things. They feel like they go together though, because it’s a common space all about food. Right now you walk into ours and it feels like a cafeteria."
The kitchen and dishrooms’ new locations in the north corner of TDR will free up space next to the stairwell and elevators leading into TDR, allowing for the creation of a second entrance and an additional passage between the two wings of the hall. Both entrances will include self check-in with a One Card, and one entrance will have a cashier for community members paying with cash or card. The space in the passage will house the improved allergy-friendly “Delicious Without” and “Avoiding Gluten” stations along with additional seating.
The renovated TDR will also feature an open kitchen with the grill and “Bowl Life” stations, as well as a display baking area called “The Nook.” Other stations will occupy space in the center of the south side of TDR with more seating, allowing for what Scher called “continuous circulation.” Scher also said that TDR will have built-in flexibility for changes in the coming years.
“This [floorplan] shows the existing station names, but all these concepts are being designed to be able to be completely, you know, renovated — completely be able to be flipped in a very short period of time, should preferences change,” he said. “So in doing this, there's a lot of things that are moving around in order to really give us a solid flow.”
With a variety of new seating including booths, cafe seating, high tables and more, Scher said AU Kitchen is responding to specific student feedback.
“A lot of the student feedback we’ve received and in the discussions we’ve had have been things like ‘I really like to be able to bring my books and my laptop and you know, grab my breakfast and then sit for an hour before class and study,’” he said. “People do express — and I don’t disagree with them — that the space now isn’t quite optimal.”
AU Kitchen has said that they sought feedback before launching the newest meal plan update and has continued to do so throughout this semester. One of the main focuses for gathering student opinion this semester has been the increased presence of managers on the floor at TDR, according to Scher.
“That sounds simple, but it’s really impactful,” he said. “And so through that we’ve gotten a lot of good feedback. And the reason we’ve had a much better fall this year than last fall is because we were able to answer people’s questions when they had an issue and quickly correct them.”
Beyond having more interactions on the floor, AU Kitchen has also continued hosting monthly Dining Committee meetings open to all community members, as well as inviting different student groups to monthly “Dine with the Directors” meals.
These meetings allow AU Kitchen to understand both the community’s concerns and what is working well, according to Scher.
“This past couple of years, we’ve seen a nice balance of like, ‘this is working really well’ because when you know when something’s working well, it’s something to dig into what’s going right,” he said. He later added that concerns were usually “much more practical day-to-day things that frustrate people, which are helpful because then we can correct them and move on.”
Scher said the University is working on putting together a survey for all meal plan holders, but wants to send it out at a time when students aren’t overwhelmed with finals and will have more time to respond.
In the meantime, Scher says AU Kitchen has seen both increased use of the meal plan this semester and improvements in students’ experience with dining on campus. These set the stage for the upcoming renovations.
“We’ve also seen the satisfaction scores up there. The food has gotten consistently better. I think we’ve hit the right point on service,” he said.” “We’re getting close on all things, and now it’s also a really good time to put the matching facility in place right with what we’ve got.”
Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled the term "Meal Swipes." The article has been updated with the correct spelling.
This article was edited by Tyler Davis, Jordan Young and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis.