Dining + Housing: We’ll Take the Combo!



As universities look to replace their outdated dining facilities, they often find that land is at a premium and available sites are slated for new residence halls. These space constraints dictate combining dining and housing in a single building, with dining on the ground floor and a residence hall above. While the preference may be for a stand-alone dining building, with careful planning the result can be a vibrant dining facility that is a good neighbor to its residential occupants. The new dining facility at the University of Missouri (Mizzou), The Restaurants at Southwest, is a successful example of a dining facility in a combined-program building.   

There are a number of challenges and important factors to consider when the building program includes both student housing and dining functions. Access, floor height, service, security, acoustics, and site coverage are just some of the main concerns. We’ll discuss theses issues and how they were addressed at the Restaurants at Southwest.  

Access to the Dining

Should dining have a separate identity from the residence hall with a dedicated exterior entrance separate from the residence hall? Or, should dining and housing have a shared common main entrance with separate dining entry off a main public lobby? Operational issues will likely dictate the answer. From the aesthetic perspective, a dedicated entry allows for more branding opportunities and gives a more “restaurant” character. This was important for the Restaurants at Southwest.  The facility has dedicated entrances conveniently located on opposite ends – one is off the new major pedestrian thoroughfare linking the residential neighborhood to the academic campus and the other links the dining to the Greek community. The main entry is branded with strong MU-gold light bans that lead to the entry. At the Mizzou project, the Starbucks store is a separate entity from the dining center with its own character and vibe. With an entry separate from the dining facility, the store’s brand awareness is heightened/enhanced as a distinct venue. 


Maintaining secure access to the residential portions of the building is essential. If possible, the best option is for the stairs serving the upper floor residence hall to exit directly to grade and not in a lobby or vestibule used by dining. An open stair door leading to the residence hall can be an invitation for tailgating or unauthorized entry. Stairs serving the housing upper floors need to be carefully located and designed to minimize the impact to the dining plan. In the Restaurants at Southwest, a dedicated stair and elevator serve the dining spaces with the main dining function on the ground and support spaces in a lower level. This does require floor space and vertical room for the elevator overrun, but the taller floor-to-floor for dining can generally accommodate the overrun. Often, facility support spaces, such as locker rooms and staff break rooms, and mechanical/electrical systems are shared with the residential life staff for space efficiencies, and electronic hardware solutions can be implemented to maintaining the residence hall security.


Separate loading docks for dining and housing is the best solution allowing for efficient flow of product into the dining facility and service needs. At the Mizzou facility, the dining and housing loading docks are arranged off a common service access point to consolidate service to one portion of the site.

Floor Height

The dining program requires a taller floor-to-floor than the housing.  This provides the opportunity for any housing functions located on the first floor to have a higher volume than a typical residence hall. In the Dobbs project, the first floor lounge space is distinctive with a large wall sculpture of wood salvaged from nearby sites on display and ceiling design and lighting that take advantage of the taller volume.


Acoustical separation between the dining floor and residential floor is paramount. Construction may include an acoustical isolation ceiling system that reduces the sound transfer between the two functions, depending on the floor construction.  Acoustical issues can be very expensive and challenging to retrofit, so construction funds should be allocated early in the design process for appropriate acoustical construction. These acoustical systems also offer the advantage of addressing odor control.  While the smell of burgers and fries is appetizing in the dining grill, these smells may not be welcome in the residential areas, and the building construction needs to prevent smells from migrating through the residential areas. At The Restaurants at Southwest, the dining floor and residential floors are separated by a substantial acoustical isolation ceiling system that prevents sound transfer between the two. 


The hoods serving the food service equipment need to exhaust to the outside, and the best option is to discharge the exhaust at the highest point of the building. When the building has a residential tower over a dining base, fire-rated ductwork is run vertically through the residential floors to reach the roof.  The vertical grease ducts need to be located on the housing floors to provide easy access for cleaning.  In addition, the grease ducts should have acoustical separation to avoid noise and vibrations from transmitting to the residential areas. At the Mizzou facility, the grease ducts are located in closets just off the central corridor for convenient access for periodic duct cleaning. In addition, hot water piping was run through each grease duct closet to facilitate duct cleaning. The grease ducts are exhausted at the highest roof level, five stories above the dining, to prevent the exhaust from going into the residential units.


Dining facilities work best when all functions are on one level. This leads to a large footprint on the site – a footprint larger than the residential tower above – and as a result, a large roof area over the dining. This roof can be turned into an advantage by designing a green roof - tray or garden. At The Restaurants at Southwest, the roof is designed for a future green roof with planted trays that will provide stormwater benefits and improved views from the residential units above.

With diligent, comprehensive, and thorough planning, you can have the combo - a residential and dining facility that functions well for all stakeholders in the building.

Dining + Housing: We’ll Take the Combo!
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