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Cafeteria renovation by JZA+D boosts pride, morale at manufacturing plant

Cafeteria renovation by JZA+D boosts pride, morale at manufacturing plant

With manufacturing jobs on the rise across the country, the companies operating them are looking to consultants like Joshua Zinder Architecture + Design (JZA+D) for strategy on amenities upgrades. A recently completed cafeteria renovation for a plant in Lakewood, N.J. presents an example of cost-effective approaches to improving recruitment and retention prospects, according to partner Mark A. Sullivan, AIA.

“In an increasingly competitive job market, even so-called unskilled labor have more options, forcing plant operators and owners to invest,” says Sullivan. “Upgrades to existing employee amenities can be relatively low-cost, while producing measurable positive impact on morale and on-the-job satisfaction.” 

Manufacturing name-brand consumer household products 24 hours a day, the Lakewood facility long lacked an adequate cafeteria amenity for its employees. The existing 1,800-square-foot eatery was expanded to add a 500-square-foot overflow area some years ago, but had still been too small to accommodate some mealtime rushes. Meanwhile, the entire space had aged poorly and the overflow area was visually dominated by several vending machines. 

According to Sullivan, the company leadership engaged JZA+D for a refresh that would unify the main and overflow seating areas, increase capacity to 65 employees at a time, and deliver a fresh new look.  

The renovated space is worlds apart from its former aesthetic. A sophisticated vibe now defines the servery area, combining grey quarry tile and textured blue wall tile behind the counter, LED pendant fixtures, and overhead baffles in natural wood finish for both visual interest and noise attenuation. Self-service coffee and microwave stations also feature light-colored wood millwork, as does a new storage wall replacing outdated lunchbox shelving for employees bringing their food from home. 

Visually separated from the servery line by elegant wire-hung translucent resin panels, the refreshed primary seating area, now seats up to 65 employees. Custom pendant fixtures, composed of acoustic materials and suspended from crisp large-format ACT ceilings, define the room from above while a bold geometric floor tile pattern does so from below. New table- and bar-height chairs add pops of color in red and yellow, completing a brand-inspired color palette, while a new counter seating installation redefines the widened corridor to the overflow area, establishing visual and social connections to unify the space.  

“The mix of communal tables and counter-height and bar seating offers employees options, making it a more comfortable destination space without creating the ‘hangout’ vibe that some office amenities are going for,” says Taylor Toms, AIA, an associate with JZA+D and project manager for the Lakewood renovation. She notes that the project also relocated a mother’s room amenity into a redesigned space with a dedicated refrigerator, sink with running water, and enhanced comfort and privacy.

According to Toms, the response has been overwhelmingly positive, with both management and employees expressing their happiness with the new cafeteria. “It’s a source of pride for the whole operation,” she says.JZA+D also revamped the 300-square-foot kitchen, significantly improving its aesthetic and performance for the benefit of the cafeteria operator.