The Front Room scene before the renovation

Photographer: Mark Dawson


The Front Room after the renovation

Photographer: Mark Dawson

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Engineering students re-engineer Baker Front Room

While students were away over winter intercession, The Front Room Coffeehouse in Baker University Center was hardly quiet.

The space underwent a major renovation in service flow to increase efficiency, thanks to the work of industrial and systems engineering students at Ohio University's Russ College of Engineering and Technology.

Senior students Moniquea Grier, Zach Phillipi, Dereck Smith and Kyler Torrence studied the Front Room's layout and service challenges as part of their two-part senior design course. Ohio University's Culinary Services implemented the students' resulting design plan.

According to Director of Auxiliaries Brian Thompson, the changes came about for one resounding reason: efficiency.

"From layout improvements to menu redesigns, to new production and point-of-sale equipment, our project goal has been one of establishing greater efficiencies with the ordering-to-production process at The Front Room," said Brian Thompson, director of auxiliaries. "The class efforts ultimately helped us to maximize our goal outcomes."

Using a Six Sigma methodology – define, measure, analyze, implement, and control -- the students started by customer experiences at The Front Room. They found that customers were waiting too long to receive their orders: in excess of four minutes during peak business hours at 10 a.m., 11 a.m. and noon. Placing a numerical value on wait times, they defined long waits as defects, and proceeded to determine how to decrease wait time and reduce the length for customers queuing.

After analyzing and developing remedies for the lengthy wait times, the team presented several re-design plans to Culinary Services.

Torrence said the problem was not a new one to the team. "Our group chose this project because we were all interested in remedying a problem that we were familiar with," Torrence said.

Director of Retail for Culinary Services Mohamed Ali wanted to work with the students for just this reason.

"Culinary Services is focused on providing a great customer experience. When looking for a way to improve this experience at The Front Room we wanted our Ohio University experts – our customers and our students – to be a part of the solution," Ali said. 

A team from Culinary Services soon approved the students' new design for the coffeehouse, which includes a new coffee brewing system and layout changes, such as grouping similar machines together for simultaneous use, relocating the bakery case and putting cash registers together.

Throughout the process, the students also received feedback directly from representatives of Starbucks Coffee.

"The focus of The Front Room renovation was to improve the 'customer experience,' which is something that truly resonates with Starbucks. We believe it's this experience that attracts repeat customers and builds connections beyond food or coffee," said Account Service Manager for Starbucks Coffee Robert Keehl.

Keehl added that Starbucks was encouraged by the academic partnership that Culinary Services formed with the Russ College.

"They turned class research into practical solutions that ultimately benefit students and staff," he noted.

Associate Professor Gary Weckman taught the senior design course, which is intended to give students first-hand experience at solving real industrial problems.

"It's a great real-world experience solving an actual industrial problem, which challenges them to use the tools they have learned," Weckman explained.

Former design teams have assisted Culinary Services with recommendations on other project research studies, including improved warehouse climate control, recycling systems and tracking of delivered items at its Central Food Facility.