Honors and Awards

UMass Dining Services Receives Best New Facility Award From Food Management Magazine for Worcester Commons

National award showcases innovative and creative dining initiatives

AMHERST, Mass. – UMass Dining has added another award to its resume. The recently constructed Worcester Commons at UMass Amherst is being honored with the Best New Facility Award from Food Management (FM) Magazine.  

The modern façade of Worcester Dining Commons is visible on the University of Massachusetts
Worcester Dining Common 

The FM awards program is designed to recognize innovative and creative initiatives undertaken by onsite dining operations in the markets the magazine coversreviews, including K-12 schools, colleges, healthcare facilities, business/industry locations and sports/entertainment venues.

The UMass team, led by Ken Toong, executive director of Auxiliary Enterprises, and Garett Distefano, director of dining, persevered through the closures, social distancing and general unease of the COVID-19 pandemic, determined to preserve the food culture and student experience they’ve worked so hard to build. Although not an easy task, Toong’s team rose to the occasion as the $68 million Worcester Commons opened to the public in October 2020.  It features a three-story, 68,000-square-foot building that combines dining (1,000 seats) and student life space. The first floor showcases a cafe and grab-and-go area, with the second floor home to main dining. Modeled after a food hall concept, the facility features 12 globally inspired stations. In addition, the facility hosts two teaching kitchens that will allow students hands-on learning with guest chefs. The third floor houses a 90-seat business casual restaurant (The Commonwealth), Auxiliary Enterprises offices and student life activity rooms.

Toong credits the success of the opening to the hard work and dedication of everyone involved in the project including the architects, designers, the UMass Dining team and UMass Building Authority. Toong notes, “The pandemic certainly added an extra challenge to the overall project, but just like dining on campus, we never stopped to get the job done. I’m so proud of the team we have on campus. They persevered through a very difficult time and produced an incredible building.”

There were unanticipated tweaks that needed to be accounted for during the final days before opening that included more plexiglass partitions, one-way and social distancing signs, more training as well as multiple hand-sanitizing stations.  Now with normal operation ready to resume, fall planning is well underway.  Toong notes, “I can’t wait to welcome back and introduce this building to the next generation of eaters on campus. I know they will love it!”

UMass Dining is the largest collegiate dining program in the United States and is a recognized leader among college dining programs because of its focus on quality ingredients and meals, customer service, student health and wellness, customization options, an appreciation of global influences and modern eating trends, and creating community on campus.  Its mission is to support and improve the student experience at UMass Amherst.