ATSR Planners/Architects/Engineers
John Jurichko

Foodservice facility assessments and master plans

July 3, 2023
A master plan delineates immediate and long-term space needs, equipment recommendations and cost estimates.

Is it time to assess your school district’s foodservice facilities and develop a master plan? Assessments identify opportunities for program/equipment/facilities improvements. A master plan provides pathways to address nutrition goals, customer expectations, production needs, and environmental strategies. For comprehensive solutions, choose a consultant team with an operations specialist, nutritionist, chef or dietitian, a non-vendor foodservice designer, and an architectural/engineering professional.

The assessment

Begin with district and consultant meetings. Determine desired operations (e.g., central production to satellite kitchens, or an onsite full-production kitchen). The consultant evaluates sites to understand nutrition services, preparation, and delivery models and to identify equipment that is lacking or unsafe.

Surveying includes evaluating existing equipment and mechanical and electrical connections. Facility drawings are uploaded into assessment software. The consultant meets with school representatives to understand unique site issues. A districtwide Facilities Conditions Index is prepared that includes information on equipment identification, useful life, replacement priorities, and cost estimates. 

The master plan

The master plan delineates immediate and long-term space needs, equipment recommendations, cost estimates, and master specifications. Engage with the district’s nutrition services user groups to design spaces reflecting best practices within budget. Prepare 3D computer models for “virtual walk-throughs” so users experience how designs will function.

When selecting kitchen equipment, consider supporting from-scratch cooking designs that enable meal programs to offer preparation from whole and local foods. Consider a product’s carbon footprint by selecting efficient equipment as well as sourcing farm-to-school products that emphasize plant-based meal planning and reduce travel distances. Guide students toward healthful foods that meet environmental objectives.


Challenges that a school may have to navigate often involve the district’s location, size, and socioeconomic conditions. High-need students may require special meal plans and nutrition education. Other students may have diverse dietary needs because of medical, religious or cultural conditions. Address language barriers in communicating meal options and nutrition education. Appraise the logistics of accessing sources for farm-to-school menus. Determine how a foodservice plan may help resolve “meal-shaming” issues.

Upgrading outdated building systems as part of the foodservice operation can be challenging. Consider inequity between sites (e.g., building age, student capacity, infrastructure limitations, accessibility). Because funding is usually limited, focus on dollar-conscious design for enhancing dining space (e.g., incorporating natural light, varying seating arrangements, architectural interest) so students enjoy their dining experience.

Planning questions

Key questions to answer: Do kitchens have adjacent space for expansion or remodeling? What on-site storage capabilities exist and what support areas are needed (lockers, toilets, offices, cooler or freezer, dry storage)? Can ventilation, plumbing, water, lighting, and electrical utilities support added equipment loads? Do sites heat and serve, hold and serve, or have capacity to prepare menu items? What equipment will be needed for new menu approaches? What preparation style (e.g., scratch, speed-scratch, heat-and-serve) is expected in a kitchen design?

For food distribution, what is the transport method and which equipment will be provided in vehicles? Which vehicle types are required to support the weight of the equipment and efficient transport to sites? What delivery methods address environmental and nutrition objectives? Are loading docks designed adequately for loading, transport efficiency, and employee safety?

If a school district needs to prepare a foodservice facilities assessment and master plan, build an experienced in-house and consultant team for a thorough process that supports the district’s nutrition objectives, student learning goals, and environmental strategies.

John Jurichko ([email protected]) is the foodservice planning and design specialist at ATSR Planners/Architects/Engineers, a Minneapolis, Minn., firm specializing in school planning and design. Jurichko has 34 years of experience in PreK-12 school foodservice planning, design, and construction.

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